After seeing the amount of food being sent to Calgary’s landfills, Lourdes Juan took her entrepreneurial background to start LeftOvers, a non-profit that redirects retail food waste to groups that need it. But, after four years of success, Juan is looking to expand her efforts within the city and beyond.
Juan’s ambitious mindset has always driven her to grow. After discovering her passion for urban planning and receiving a masters in environmental design, Juan was just 23 when she started her first business, Soma Hammam & Spa, followed by her firm LMJ Consultants.
Despite Juan’s successful career, she never anticipated being involved in the non-profit world, not to mention food sustainability. That all changed in 2012 when Juan accompanied her cousin to pick up Cob’s leftover bread as donations to the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. The sheer amount of food that would otherwise go to the trash was more than she had expected.
“There was 200 pounds of bread, which is insane to actually see. It’s like a truck full of bread,” Juan says. “When we went to the Drop-In Centre, they were overwhelmingly happy that we were bringing this food. They know how valuable this is. We might not put a value on it, because it’s in these clear plastic bags, and we kind of just drop it off. But for them, it saves on their budgets. It saves their time, their energy, their money.”
That night, when Juan got home, she began to research food insecurity statistics in Calgary, only to discover that it was a global issue. Although she found existing Canadian agencies that handled food waste, it was a desire to do more that sparked Juan’s idea to start up LeftOvers.
“There was nobody in Calgary that was doing it to a scale that I thought we could do it,” she says. “Entrepreneurially, my brain thinks of how we can replicate things, how we can make it grow, how we can make big dreams happen. It was just really a combination of all of those things.”
For the first six months, Juan started small. Every week she would go on her own or with a friend to do pick-ups from Cob’s Bread. But after Juan’s spa business was featured in the Calgary Herald, a follow-up story was written on LeftOvers, generating the first influx of support.
Among them was Jennifer Proudfoot, who currently volunteers as LeftOvers’ events coordinator.
“Making people aware of the food waste, but also myself becoming aware of our needy population in the city came into play,” Proudfoot says. “It’s been a really great learning experience on both sides for me.”
As volunteers like Proudfoot continued to join LeftOvers, Juan found herself reaching out to numerous businesses and service agencies for her team to partner with. Now, after four years of steady growth, LeftOvers has the help of 148 volunteers and 40 local vendors.
“You can see the change that you’re making,” Juan says. “It’s right in front of you. Every time that you drive from one place to the next. Cob’s bread was 150, maybe 200 pounds a week. Now we’re up to almost 3,000, not including last minute runs or pickups that we do.”
Jordan Hamilton, the manager of external relations for the Drop-In Centre, can attest to the positive impact LeftOvers has made.
“I think LeftOvers YYC is a real testament to how generous Calgarians are,” Hamilton says. “Like all organizations, we have limited financial needs. But thanks to the partnership with LeftOvers we can really increase the nutritional quality of our food, which not only shows our clients that they’re cared about, but increases their health as well.”
Showing no signs of slowing down, Juan plans on using LeftOvers’ current model to target food waste in Calgary’s residential areas and nearby farms. But she isn’t stopping there.
“We have come this far, but we have so much more to do.”
Juan is also in the process of applying for grants so that LeftOvers has the resources to expand even further. Branching out to cities like Edmonton and finding a way to work with big box grocery stores are some of the challenges Juan is excited to take on.
“I hope that we just keep building, and I hope that it grows to an exponential level where people in cities don’t have to go hungry or beg for food,” Juan says. “It’s really about how do we make the world better than we left it.”
- By Andrea Wong