Founders Story – Matt Donovan
If you’d told Matt in 2015 that he’d be running his own charity, it would’ve been difficult for him to believe. “I’d always grown food before, but never on the scale of having a farm.” In fact, he owned a successful commercial cleaning business.
But after his marriage ended in 2016, Matt closed down his company and moved to Melbourne, ready for a change. While he decided what to do next professionally, Matt began volunteering at food relief organisations, and it was then that his worlds collided.
“I had a day where my son wanted a snack after school. He went for a banana, but he’d already eaten them all. And I thought, ‘What happens when you spend your weekly allowance on food, but it’s not enough? What do you do?”
From his time volunteering, Matt knew that all too often, people would go to a charity for assistance, but there wouldn’t be enough food there either. “How can we live in a country with so much money, and so much land, and so many resources, and not be able to feed these people?” he wondered.
It wasn’t the first time Matt had come face to face with issues of homelessness and food insecurity. A few years earlier, he received a call from a hospital in Sydney. “Your father is here,” they told him. “He’s about to die.”
Matt and his father had been estranged for some time. Earlier, his father was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. He was expected to pass in a few months—except he didn’t.
“My father lived for many more years, but he’d spent all his money. He was going through treatment, couldn’t get work, was drinking huge quantities of alcohol for the pain—and just lived and lived and lived.”
His father cut off contact during this dark time, not wanting to burden Matt with what was going on. It wasn’t until Matt went to the hospital while his father was dying that he understood the full extent of what his dad had been going through. There was a representative from Mission Australia already there. “We’ve been housing your dad for the last year or so,” he was told.
“It was absolutely horrendous the way he was living,” Matt said. “You think homeless shelter, it’ll be reasonably okay. But this wasn’t okay.” Prior to the shelter his father had been living on the streets.
When Matt moved to Melbourne, he was still reeling from what he’d learnt about his father’s final years. “I hadn’t told anyone about my dad, because I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was in an unfortunate place with the divorce but fortunate to have the time to work through things. That space allowed Food for Change to be born.”
During his time volunteering, he’d encounter people who had food ready to donate. But because charities didn’t always have the money to pay extra wages or tolls, or didn’t have the manpower, the food wasn’t picked up and went to waste. “We live in an age where we can do things differently,” Matt said. “There had to be a way to connect these people.”
With his father’s experience in mind, his passion for food and his experience in farming, Food for Change was created.
A New Wave Of Food Relief
The mission of Food for Change is to “Help Alleviate Food Insecurity” and they do it in a unique way. Firstly Food For Change uses existing unused land and an army of volunteers to grow fresh nutritious fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Secondly The organisation also “rescues” food locally, connecting local food donors with local food relief organisation to not only maximise the amount of food rescued, but also keep it in the community.
All the food that is grown and rescued is then donated to support already-existing food relief agencies of various sizes. By utilising existing infrastructure, Food For Change keeps costs extremely low to allow for more food to serve those in need.
“To me it seems surprisingly easy to fix the problem. All the food relief agencies have a common goal. If we get collaboration between us all, we can work together and solve this.” – Matt Donovan
In the first three years of operation Food for Change managed to rescue 103,056 meals and grow 101,978 meals for hungry Australians. For many people, making that type of impact would be enough. But for Matt, it was just the beginning. After a member of the board mentioned they had walked into a local IGA store and saw a collection tin for a local charity, Matt wondered how Food for Change could do something similar. Shortly after, he pitched the company to sponsor the Food Rescue program and App.
The app and program was trialled in Sydney Australia and in short allows IGA stores to donate food that might otherwise go into the bin, such as items close to their expiry date or fresh produce that might have cosmetic imperfections. Previously these items were thrown into the bin as other food relief organisations would not pick them up. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Matt. “More food for the hungry and less food to landfill”.
During the six-month pilot period, the IGA Food Rescue Program provided over 30,000 meals to the hungry in Sydney—and brought Matt an unexpected moment of serendipity. He was there for the first collection of food from Meadowbank IGA and a representative from St Vincent’s De Paul attended as well and mentioned that some of the food the organisation was collecting would be taken to a Sydney homeless shelter—the same shelter where Matt’s father had lived for a period of time. He was now able to give back to people who, like his father, had fallen on their luck.
“If you do something from the core of you, like I felt when I created Food for Change, and it feels right and you trust your gut instinct, things line up and work out in a weird way.” – Matt Donovan
Matt has no plans to slow down on his goal of eliminating food insecurity. The Food Rescue App was rolled out nationwide in October and is delivering thousands of meals to hungry Australians each week. Matt is acutely aware of how quickly a person’s circumstances can change, the shame that’s associated with food insecurity, and how having access to fresh food can change that.
“We’re going to keep feeding more people. I’m not going to stop until organisations call me and say, ‘We don’t need more food.’ If you’re someone who needs food and shows up to a relief agency and can get it, then my job is done.” – Matt Donovan, Founder & CEO: The Food For Change Foundation
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