GUEST BLOG: 123,000 Meals Recovered in a Week – Here’s How We Did It


GUEST BLOG: 123,000 Meals Recovered in a Week – Here’s How We Did It

by: Hillary Bryant, Executive Director, Waste Not and Rosa Hernandez, Communications and Engagement Manager, Waste Not

February 28, 2023

Tourists flooded the Grand Canyon state in early February. Donning their hats and sunglasses in clear, 70-degree weather, fans congregated at the Tournament Players Club for the PGA’s WM Phoenix Open and at State Farm Stadium for Super Bowl LVII.

The tourism industry has a huge impact on Arizona, raking in $24.2 billion in revenue for the state. As great as that is for the economy, there is a downside – food waste.

Arizona is the worst offender when it comes to food waste in the U.S. We at Waste Not – a local Arizona nonprofit – are on a mission to eliminate food waste and hunger in our local community.

When two of the biggest events of the year happened within the same weekend, Waste Not said “challenge accepted.” And in the end, we recovered more than 123,000 meals in the span of a week.

How did we do this?


During the last month, Waste Not showcased just how important partnerships are. We’ve always said we can’t do what we do without our partners, and this past February we saw just how true this statement is. Having long-standing relationships with like-minded organizations, and those that challenge us to do more, is crucial for a mission like ours.

That’s why we teamed up with NFL Green for the Super Bowl and M Culinary Concepts for the WM Phoenix Open.

Super Bowl LVII marked Waste Not’s third time recovering excess food from the event. Partnering with NFL Green, the league’s official environmental program, we completed more than 30 pick-ups from Super Bowl-related events and the big game itself. With community partners, Waste Not rescued 115,324 pounds of food this year (which is a 46,000 lb. increase from 2015 when the Super Bowl was last in town).

During the same weekend, the WM Phoenix Open – the largest zero waste sporting event in the world – took to the green. Waste Not partnered with a favorite of ours – M Culinary Concepts, the largest catering and hospitality service provider in the southwest and a passionate advocate for the elimination of food waste. Together, we diverted 32,752 pounds of high-quality, catered food away from landfills and into the hands of those who need it most in our community.

Without partnerships like NFL Green and M Culinary Concepts, we couldn’t have done what we did. Without partnerships like those, we can’t do what we do.

Partnerships matter.

So does teamwork.

Recovering more than 123,000 meals is not something that happens overnight. Planning for February began back in June of last year. Our team at Waste Not was relentless in our pursuit to rescue as much food as we could and help as many people as possible. We’re very grateful for the synergy we have as a team to support one another, at times even beyond the scope of our job descriptions. A lot of Waste Not’s kudos for the actual food rescue goes to our Agency and Operations managers who put their minds and backs (quite literally) into the effort to coordinate and execute pick-ups and deliveries. Which was probably the most challenging part of it all – if we’re being honest.

Deliveries are not easy. It’s not as simple as dropping off thousands of pounds at the doorstep of an agency. Needs must be assessed. Timing must be on point. Records must be kept.

Yes, it required almost nonstop talks, quickly touching base, and late-night or last-minute calls to pull off two of our biggest food rescue events of the year – at the same time. But it was worth it.

Our dual mission at Waste Not is unique to the food waste conversation in Arizona. We’re helping not only people, but also the planet around us. We want both to flourish through our food rescue efforts, and that’s exactly what happened this February.

Twenty-four agencies from our network of more than 85 nonprofits received enough food to last them days, if not weeks. Several of our agencies have already reached out with gratitude about the amount and quality of food they now have to feed the people they serve.

The impact on our planet – our one and only home – is just as meaningful.

Food waste is an accomplice to global warming and wasted energy, water, and money. Rescuing nearly 150,000 pounds of food means that we avoided putting the equivalent of 72 cars on the road for an entire year, and that we avoided adding more food waste to what’s already in our landfills – 24% of all landfill inputs. On the other side of the coin, we conserved more than 14 million gallons of water. That’s right. Millions of gallons. Of water. In the desert.

Not too bad for a week of work.

But we want to do more.

We care about the Earth and the people inhabiting it, and we want tomorrow to look different when it comes to food waste and hunger. We’re doing our best to create sustainable food systems that work for people and the planet, but we can’t do it alone. We need partners and supporters. Those who see the need to feed the nearly one million Arizonans suffering from hunger and food insecurity. Those who believe our planet deserves better than to be a dumping ground for food waste.

In our 36 years in the food rescue industry, Waste Not has never seen the need for our services so high. Inflation and economic recession have caused a dramatic increase in the number of hungry people in Arizona. As we continue to meet this growing need, we in turn need our community. Your support through monetary and food donations allows us to help people and the planet flourish for many years to come.

The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect ReFED's views and opinions.

ReFED is a national nonprofit working to end food loss and waste across the food system by advancing data-driven solutions to the problem. ReFED leverages data and insights to highlight supply chain inefficiencies and economic opportunities; mobilizes and connects people to take targeted action; and catalyzes capital to spur innovation and scale high-impact initiatives. ReFED’s goal is a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food system that optimizes environmental resources, minimizes climate impacts, and makes the best use of the food we grow.

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