Estimates show that in Greater Boston, some 40 percent of the food produced is wasted, but not if Vinny Vassallo can help it.
Vassallo, an Everett native, is the lead trainer and coordinator for the Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ newest, and eighth overall, food rescue truck that is picking up and delivering on a route that includes Lynn, Everett, Chelsea, Revere, and East Boston.
The model for Lovin’ Spoonfuls is to work with partners like Baldor Specialty Foods (Chelsea), Big Y, Stop & Shop, and Target, to rescue perishable and nutritious food, from fruits and vegetables to meat and dairy, to then distribute, same day, to 18 area nonprofits, including Lynn’s My Brother’s Table, Everett’s Grace Ministries North Shore, and East Boston’s Harborside Community School. Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ same-day model helps to ensure that fresh and healthy perishable food isn’t wasted and, instead, quickly makes its way to people who need it.
For Vassallo, who has been with the company since 2016, being able to help the community he grew up in – and lived in until last month – has been heartwarming.
“I grew up in Everett, but my family is from East Boston,” said Vassallo, 32. “I’ve spent a lot of time in these cities. To be able to help people there is very meaningful…We went to Lynn and Revere before. We were in East Boston and Chelsea and we only went to Everett to pick up food from Costco and Target. This new route allows us to now deliver to Grace Food Pantry and My Brother’s Table. It makes me so happy to help there, too. I’m loving it. My family had enough, and we were a big Italian family so growing up I was probably overfed. Growing up there, though, I noticed it was different for my friends. There was a difference between what I had and what they had. I could see it. Now, I can also see it during this pandemic. These were my neighbors. The need is tremendous everywhere we deliver.”
Dianne Kuzia Hills, executive director of My Brother’s Table, said Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ efforts have been instrumental in serving the needs of the food shelter’s clients during the pandemic. My Brother’s Table served 64,000 meals to individuals in July, which is four times the number of meals that MBT served in July, 2019.
“Loving’ Spoonfuls has been really helpful to us because it’s so hard to have enough volunteers to both run our operation here and do pickups and deliveries,” said Hills. “So they take that work off our shoulders and it’s been really super helpful.”
Kuzia Hills said Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ staff has also been helpful in delivering toiletries that are distributed to clients in the free medical clinic at My Brother’s Table.
She praised Vassallo and the Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ staff for their professionalism and organizational skills.
“They’re great at what they do. They’re super friendly, very organized, and really enthusiastic. It’s great having partners like Lovin’ Spoonfuls and it helps a lot,” said Kuzia Hills. “We need the products that they deliver but we don’t always have the person-power to pick them up ourselves.”
Through a grant from the Department of Public Health (DPH), Lovin’ Spoonfuls was able to secure their eighth truck, which Vassallo coordinates while training those on all of the other trucks. They currently have six trucks in Greater Boston that serve rescue food pick-ups and deliveries, with two outside of Greater Boston.
Vassallo grew up on Baldwin Avenue in Everett, and attended the Devens School and Parlin Junior High before moving away for high school. He returned after high school and lived in Everett for many years. While there, he worked at an office job, but found that he needed something new.
“I am glad I made this move,” he said. “Sitting at a desk for eight to 10 hours a day – it wasn’t for me. I was growing restless. At the same time, I didn’t want to take a job that was active for the sake of being active. I didn’t want an excuse to just be outside and active. I wanted something more meaningful that helped people. This really filled that void for me. We are doing something great for the environment in keeping this food out of landfills, but we are also taking that rescued food and providing good food for people who need it.”
Lovin Spoonfuls Director Ashley Stanley said their company has become even more critical during the pandemic, serving perfectly good food to people who need it – food that would otherwise be thrown out by groceries, wholesalers and restaurants.
“As we all have seen, these communities have been hit the hardest by COVID, said Stanley, founder and executive director. “As such, it was an obvious next step for the Spoonfuls team to increase efforts in places where our end users, who utilize area pantries, meal programs and shelters, are often disproportionately affected by crises of any kind. Over the last 10 years, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has sought to help heal our communities through food. Unfortunately, the current pandemic further amplified the disparities in access to fresh, healthy food.”
The new route has daily pick-ups occurring Monday through Friday, and it is expected to rescue an additional 222,000 pounds of perishable foods by the end of 2020 – the equivalent of 176,000 meals for neighbors in need.
Those are big numbers and Vassallo said when he first started working at Lovin’ Spoonfuls, he was shocked at the amounts of food that went to waste. Some of it was perfectly fine, but near its sell-by date. Some was just misshapen or not the perfect color, yet still fine to eat. All of it, otherwise, would have gone into a landfill.
“When I first started, it was staggering the types of food given to us,” he said. “Some of it is close dated, but in perfectly fine condition…Like many, I was shocked to see how much good food is being thrown away when I knew there were people who were hungry and could use it.”
Since 2010, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued over 17 million pounds of fresh, healthy food, creating 14 million meals. Driven by a passion for change, Stanley established Spoonfuls after realizing hunger isn’t a problem of supply, it’s a problem of distribution. Since the start of the pandemic, Spoonfuls has rescued over 1.5 million pounds of food and onboarded 20 new beneficiary partners in response to the rising need. About 14 percent of partners rely on Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ deliveries for all of the food they serve their clients.
(Cary Shuman of the Lynn Journal contributed to this story).