Leftovers Foundation: A program to end food insecurity in our city

Story by Adriana Cueva
Photos by Quin Hauck

What does a modern superhero look like? She might have bright eyes and even brighter ideas. Give her a busy schedule and a mission, plenty of intelligence and preparation, and you’ve got Calgary’s modern-day superhero: Lourdes Juan. And her mission? Leftovers Foundation, a program to end food insecurity for communities in our city and, when she achieves her goal, communities everywhere.

Juan has an impressive educational and business portfolio as a small business owner, city planner, and founder of the not for profit, Leftovers. Juan‘s education and business savvy caused her to develop a highly analytical filter through which she views the world, a filter that allowed her to see an issue not only as a problem, but a challenge to be managed.

And that is exactly what she did with the issue of food waste coupled with food insecurity in the city. She began to break down the facets of both these circumstances. In the initial stages of the organization, Juan admits running Leftovers felt like trying to build a plane and fly it at the same time.

Leftovers had humble grassroots beginnings with the Calgary community lending a huge helping hand in its success. A great amount of cooperation and dedication is required to keep the gears turning, but Juan says there is no shortage of this in the Calgary community; her foundation has received incredible amounts of local support from multiple sectors.

Even the critics of the early Leftovers models were incredibly helpful, especially those who pointed out to Juan the fact that finding a solution wasn’t just about the redistribution of food, but about finding a sustainable way of solving food insecurity in communities that needed it most. It seemed the whole city wanted success for the organization and the constructive criticism was welcomed by Juan and implemented in making her models better.

Leftovers has gone through a variety of business models, from food redistribution where Leftovers paired food that was to go to waste with communities who needed it, to a more concrete solution regarding the issue of food insecurity in urban food deserts.

Because of the way cities are structured, high-density, inner-city communities are often found trapped in these food deserts that provide little to no healthy and affordable food sources accessible to them, while more affordable groceries are found towards the outer city limits. As an urban planner, Juan is able to see the fallacy in this structure. She was guided by the precedent of similar organizations operating out of St. Louis and Halifax and decided to pair up with local businesses to provide quality groceries at lower, fair prices. And so, we come to Leftovers’ current business model.

Lourdes Juan, left, with teammate Roxanne Pham, right, outside the Leftovers mobile community market.

In addition to food redistribution, Leftovers also operates an affordable grocery store, called the Community Mobile Market, that pops up in inner city communities that lack access to affordable and healthy groceries in established stores nearby. They set up their market and people from the community visit the market to get the food they need. Through this current model, Leftovers is visiting neighbourhoods like Bridgeland, Pineridge and secluded towns like Morley, where food insecurity is a serious problem.

And for Juan, this is not where it ends.

The City of Calgary has agreed to donate two buses to Leftovers in order to aid their efforts. The next step of the business model is to make the market truly mobile. This would save on set up time, labour, and reduce the need to find and rent a locale to stage the market.

This is particularly important in the winter months, when outdoor space is unavailable and commuting to get healthy groceries is even more of a struggle. Adding this mobility to the organization results in the ability to then scale the project, potentially taking it worldwide.

Juan‘s prior studies and work led her to have a strong sense of system syncing, which helped her to develop this not-for-profit business model; her goal and vision is for this model to advance and to gain a greater scope to tackle the issue of food insecurity.

As a whole, the issue of food insecurity is a very real one that Leftovers is bringing awareness and aid to. For individuals and families, helping can be as simple as starting at home. This can be done by buying only what you need in order to discourage the over production and subsequent waste of food and by growing a genuine respect for the value of food.