Alberta cloud resource supports local charity that diverts edible food from the landfill

The Leftovers Foundation is one of Western Canada’s largest food rescue charities. Based in Calgary and Edmonton, the organization works with local restaurants, bakeries and grocers to redirect edible food that is headed to the landfill towards those who need it most. This rescued food helps service agencies such as the Calgary Drop-In Centre, Calgary Interfaith Food Bank, Alpha House, Making Changes Association and Inn from the Cold reduce their annual grocery bills. This, in turn, frees up funds that can be reinvested into vital support programs like housing, education, rehabilitation, and other essential social support services. (Side note: Cybera’s President and CEO, Barb Carra, formerly sat on the board for the Leftovers Foundation)

The organization relies on volunteers to pick up the food, which has been donated by a variety of restaurants, stores, and other facilities, and deliver it to a service agency in a timely manner, before the food becomes inedible. Balancing the schedule and capacity of multiple volunteers proved to be tricky, particularly as the foundation’s operations grew.

“We were using a free software to manage our logistics, but it was slow and not ideal for a growing organization,” says Lourdes Juan, Founder and Executive Director of the Leftovers Foundation. “As we scaled, we realized we needed to track more things. For example, Alberta Health Services wanted us to track the temperature and weight of the food, and the distance we covered. We realized we needed an app that would help us and our volunteers record this information, but we didn’t have the resources to build our own.”

Meanwhile, Lourdes was introduced to a group of teenage girls from Bishop McNally High School in Calgary. They had entered the 2017 Technovation Challenge, a global tech entrepreneurship competition for female high school students. The girls were interested in focusing their entry on something that would help reduce food waste, and began building an app solution for Leftovers.

The charity’s tech support volunteer, Brad Rougeau, mentored the girls throughout the project, and finished the development of the final product. Thanks to the efforts of Brad and the Bishop McNally students — and generous donations from the public — the app went public in December 2018.

A cloud boost from Cybera

From the development phase to deployment, the Leftovers app has been hosted on Cybera’s Rapid Access Cloud. This powerful computing resource is made freely available to researchers and entrepreneurs looking to test their ideas, and to not-for-profits needing cloud support. Brad, who was completing his masters degree in computer science at the University of Calgary, was familiar with the Rapid Access Cloud from his previous work on the social media research project, Viewcount.

“The Rapid Access Cloud has been very easy to work with, and I’ve appreciated how flexible it has been to our needs,” says Brad. “Cybera’s cloud developers have also been very supportive, working quickly with me to address any issues.”         

Community benefits

Since the Leftovers app launched, Lourdes says there has been a noticeable improvement in the charity’s efficiency and capacity. “Now, my team isn’t spending all their time doing administrative things. We can get out in the community and bring in more volunteers and supporters,” she says. “This means we can have more impact in a meaningful way.”

The app has been downloaded by 600 donors and volunteers, and around 84 routes per week are now being scheduled. “It’s been a great convenience for the volunteers, as they can now sign up for a specific route, such as pick up from their local Starbucks and take to the Dream Centre. This convenience will hopefully entice other volunteers to join.”

Lourdes says the app has also given her team more accurate data, which is vital for educating governments, institutions, and everyday consumers about how to better manage food supplies. “In 2019, we diverted 231,000 pounds of food from landfill. But our ultimate goal isn’t to increase the amount of food collected, it’s to engage more people about food waste.”

Next steps

Leftovers recently launched the second version of their app, which includes a leaderboard and badges for volunteers (to offer incentives to do more pickups). Organizationals volunteers are also currently building a website that will allow vendors to create an on-demand route (enabling Leftovers to respond to last-minute food excesses).

For those looking to support the Leftovers Foundation, they can do so by donating — for every $20 donated, 500 lbs of food is rescued. They are also always looking for volunteers who are willing to transport food. “It can take as little as 20 minutes of your day to help us,” says Lourdes. “Just download the app to get started!”