It was the end of another busy night at an event Ronni Kahn’s company had organised when Ronni began to despair. Once again, they’d over catered and food – good food – was being binned. Shaking her head as she tossed another untouched plate of food into the rubbish, Ronni lamented the terrible waste.
Later, on the way home from another event, she couldn’t get the notion of the wastefulness out of her head. And she was just one company. Imagine how many other events companies, restaurants, supermarkets and cafes also ditched their unused produce. On a whim she decided to knock on the door of a charity that provided food to those in need. “How would you feel if I could bring you food?” she asked.
That question sparked a movement that saw Ronni launch the food rescue charity OzHarvest in 2004 – an organisation that has now donated more than 43 million meals to more than 800 charities and prevented 14,000 tonnes of food from going to waste.
OzHarvest … has now donated more than 43 million meals to more than 800 charities and prevented 14,000 tonnes of food from going to waste.
Searching for purpose
“I just felt awful about throwing away the food,” Ronni says. “And it seemed it must have been happening on a grand scale. So I knocked on the door of one charity to ask if they wanted the food and they were just blown away and said ‘bring it on’.”
Ronni asked five other charities the same month, then another 13, then 25. Such was the demand that Ronni realised the potential in what she was doing.
It also happened that she’d reached a point in her life where she was yearning for purpose. She’d emigrated to Sydney Australia from Israel to provide a secure life for her two sons. She’d worked hard to establish a successful business, to put a roof over their heads. And they were comfortable. But Ronni felt she had more to offer. Perhaps the food rescue could provide the sense of purpose she sought.
Around the same time, by chance, Ronni heard of an organisation in America which had already started a food rescue charity. Intrigued, she booked herself a flight and traversed the globe to check it out. “I saw them doing exactly what I’d been planning,” Ronni says. “I realised I needed a van, a phone and funding to make it happen. I didn’t have that kind of money myself.”
While nervous at asking for financial support, Ronni found people were keen to support the cause. “It’s something everyone can relate to,” she says. “Every mother says to eat up your food and don’t let it go to waste.”
The Macquarie Group Foundation provided the seed funding to launch Australia’s first food rescue charity, and OzHarvest was born.
Ronni started scouring food providers – fruit and vegetable markets, supermarkets, hotels, wholesalers, farmers, stadiums, corporate events, catering companies, shopping centres, delis, cafes, restaurants, film and TV shoots and boardrooms. She’d take their leftover food and prepare it into ready-to-eat meals.
In the first month Ronni and a fast-growing team of volunteers delivered 8000 meals to 13 charities in Sydney, within a year it was 10 million meals and now, 12 years on, it has delivered more than 43 million meals in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth and some regional areas.
“Every mother says to eat up your food and don’t let it go to waste.”
Not only has the charity prevented waste, it has also slashed the operating budgets of charities working to help the disadvantaged, and seriously improved the quality of food on offer. Today OzHarvest is also about teaching vulnerable people to cook for themselves in a way that prevents waste and nurtures their health. It also provides hospitality training to disadvantaged young people through its program Nourish.
While Ronni would never have imagined herself doing what she does today, she knows that she has finally found her purpose. Despite the hectic schedule and relentless demand, she does not lament the work. “I have never once thought it was too hard,” she says. “It’s such a joy and there’s such a sense of fulfilment and excitement about what more we can do. I believe every single one of us has a purpose. And I believe in the ripple effect of spreading love in communities and countries. It is love and sharing and caring that will take us from this hideous political quagmire to a better world, no matter what your religion or background or the colour of your skin.”
“I believe in the ripple effect of spreading love in communities and countries.”
Get involved …
You can support OzHarvest’s work by donating online. Visit the website www.ozharvest.org