Conversation with Adam Lowy, Founder and ED of Move For Hunger.
Adam shares about the landscape of food insecurity in the US and the need for year-round support for food banks – not just around Thanks Giving. Move for Hunger is also succeeding with great in person truck pulling events that raise food, funds and awareness across the US.
Video from the truck pull event:
[00:00:00] Well, we’ve got a returning guest, Adam Lowie, founder and executive director of Move for Hunger, move for Hunger, mobilizes Transportation Resources to reduce food waste and fight hunger. And we’re gonna get into how they’re doing that. They were founded in 2009. So Adam, you’ve been at it for quite some.
[00:00:47] We met actually back in the day, my former life as Chief Technology officer of do something.org. When Adam Lowie was, was it at that time a Brick Award winner? A Do something award winner Do do something, yeah. I think it was the Do Something award technically at that point, yes. A do something. I think I still have my little exclamation point trophy from back in the day.
[00:01:11] Well, these were the sort of best of the best of young entrepreneurs in the social impact world. And I, I remember Adam at the time and we stayed friends and we stayed friends. He was a member of the New York City Global Shaper community and has really built something incredible at Move for Hunger. So, In, in your words, can you remind us, because obviously all of our audience listens to every single one of our over 250 episodes.
[00:01:40] remembers all of our guests. Can you remind us how Move for Hunger does what they do best? Absolutely. So we started, as you mentioned, 13 years ago, out of my family’s moving company. We saw folks leaving behind or throwing away food when they were moving, and started to ask that question, do you wanna donate food when you.
[00:02:00] Turns out people wanna do good. You just have to make it super easy. And in this case, we were bringing a food drive into people’s living rooms. Uh, today we have trained more than 1100 professional moving companies across the US and Canada to make food recovery a core part of the way they do business.
[00:02:18] We’ve expanded from just movers to work with relocation management companies, temp housing providers. We work with more than 600,000 apartment units, for folks moving in the multi-family industry. And we’re also now tackling fresh food. So for us it’s really about, ensuring that we can mobilize transportation networks to be in the right place at the right time to get food to where it needs to be.
[00:02:39] And altogether we’ve now collected enough food to provide more than 25 million meals, uh, to folks. And it’s an incredible number, but also it’s an innovative approach. We are, I’d say, generally familiar with how food banks work locally, and I think this is addressing both a problem and opportunity, uh, to, to use these resources, which are, you know, moving trucks and moments, which are moments.
[00:03:08] People relocating their living situation and saying like, yeah, there’s a lot of waste in that system. How do we redirect that? And then it seems like you’re expanding now to realizing that there’s a huge last mile problem. As I understand it for food insecure people in our country there, there’s enough food, there’s enough planted, grown.
[00:03:33] In our country to feed everyone. However, getting it to where it needs to be is that last mile problem. And it strikes me that trucks are, are a good way to do that. And so maybe a little bit more on how you’re expanding there. Yeah. So you kinda hit the nail on the head there. 35% of food produced in the United States ends up in landfills.
[00:03:57] And if you zoom out globally 28% of the world’s farmable land. Grows food that will never be eaten which is just a wild number, you know, to think about. Hmm. and all of this, well, you know, there’s now 38 million Americans including one in six kids that are going to bed hungry each night. So for us, it’s really about mobilizing existing resources.
[00:04:17] You’ve got these companies, you’ve got these trucks, they’re providing a service, and this is something that helps ’em stand apart from the competition. It’s providing a really great service to their customers. You know, if you’ve ever moved, didn’t know what to do with that food. Maybe felt guilty about throwing it away.
[00:04:33] Here’s an easy thing to do. but it’s not just about that last mile. In some cases it’s about the first mile. So we’re working with farmers. We are working with CPG companies, distributors. We just install a cold storage hub in Rhode Island to work with local fisheries out there, to be able to keep food cold longer so it doesn’t have to go to waste.
[00:04:56] Um, and that fish is being distributed across our Rhode Island. We’ve done the same with some farms in New Jersey and some other places, Kentucky as well. Um, You know, there, there’s a lot of reasons why food goes to waste. It happens at the farm level. Um, it happens when food is rejected. Um, we talked to, uh, a company that had bananas, um, 250,000 of them to be exact, that were.
[00:05:24] You know, the grocery stores no, no longer wanted them. They were at a port in Los Angeles and we were able to recover all of that food and get it to local food banks within just a matter of days. Um, so again, right resources, right time. Mm-hmm. , um, you could have a dented can in a 12 pack of soup. The, the grocery store isn’t gonna take that 12 pack anymore because one can was dented.
[00:05:47] Oftentimes that food is discarded, and that’s the reality of what’s happening, not just in our country, but. . Well, I wanna come back to some of those stats, as you mentioned, one in six kids, uh, facing food insecurity. You know, we’re coming up on Thanksgiving and this is a time of year where food banks get this sudden surprise amount, not surprise amount, predictable amount of support of volunteers of yet another can of cranberries.
[00:06:20] Can you, you know, from the perspective of somebody who works in the industry is like, uh, you know, you welcome volunteers with open arms, but there’s a very much like, you know, where, where were you yesterday? Um, so what is the feeling at at food banks right now coming into this Thanksgiving? They’re busy, right?
[00:06:41] They’re, they’re busy of an ever, um, part of it’s for, you know, the reasons we just talked about. Food insecurity is, is at a, at a high, yes. In some cases it has lowered a little bit. Um, but then you couple that with inflation. I went to the grocery store yesterday and probably spent the most I’ve ever spent, and I wasn’t even shopping for Thanksgiving yet.
[00:07:00] That is a reality for a lot of people that are seeing, you know, these food prices increase when they go to check out. So it’s, it is becoming more of a problem than, than I’d say it has been in the past. Really where we are trying to kind of take this. As we go into the holidays is listen, hunger is a year round issue.
[00:07:22] People are food insecure on a year round basis. And by the way, hunger is a symptom of poverty. You know, handing someone a can of food is not going to solve their food insecurity problem. Um, you’ve got the cost of food, you’ve got the cost of healthcare, you’ve got the cost of housing. Insurance. All of these things are at all time highs.
[00:07:40] While wages are still at all time lows in, in many cases, um, yes, we’re seeing some wages, um, increase, but, but that doesn’t affect a lot of the minimum wage workers, um, out there that are working two, three jobs and still trying to decide between. A meal for their kids or you know, paying rent. And that is a real negotiation that a lot of families are doing.
[00:08:05] So when we think about the holidays, and I’m sure the food banks will agree, Yes, this is a busy time of year, but what we have moved for hunger at least trying to do, is create opportunities to have people think about food insecurity throughout the year, um, with different campaigns. So in February we do our Spread the Love campaign where we collect peanut butter and jelly.
[00:08:26] Um, or maybe in August we’re doing our Shark Week food drive, um, where we’re collecting can tuna fish cuz kids like tuna just as much as sharks do. Right. Um, in August, we’re the only game in town. No one’s holding a food drive in the summer. And by the way, kids are outta school. They’re not receiving emergency food assistance or reduced their pre lunches.
[00:08:43] Those are the times where we really need to think about how do we put more food on the shelves of food banks and pantries. Those are the times where we need to raise our voices as hunger relief organizations and be the loudest, because that’s where the difference can really be made. Yes, the food banks are gonna be fine this Thanksgiving.
[00:09:01] They’re gonna feed a record number of people between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but come January two. Those shelves are just as barren as they were before Thanksgiving. And this is where we all need to come to come together. Not just to donate food, but donate dollars, donate time, um, donate your voice advocate, and really come together to make sure we can, uh, really reduce poverty, because that’s the only way we’re gonna reduce food in insecurity.
[00:09:30] We’re such great creatures when it comes to moments of compassion, but sustained effort. It’s just, it’s tough. It is. It’s, it’s really hard. Which is why coming back to your solution make it easy. People do care, make it easy. People wanna find a, a moving company that supports move for hunger and will donate that extra food.
[00:09:55] You have a search on your site that has a network of moving companies that will actually directly assist in moving that food that last mile. And so, yeah, you can’t just depend on these moments of caring, but rather you have to make it convenient and, and not just convenient for the person that wants to give, but convenient for the person that is actually implementing the process, right?
[00:10:20] So in our case, our movers, our multifamily partners, our relocation management companies, if you can create something that becomes part of their business model, becomes part of their standard operating procedure, if you. Then at some point you don’t actually need a charitable cost. You know, you talk about charities going outta business.
[00:10:40] We’re not trying to go outta business right now, but it’s really fun to be able to see like companies like Bell Partners or fpi or Allied Van Lines like. Talking about food insecurity or food waste and food recovery as part of their marketing that wasn’t happening 10 years ago. Um, but now it’s something that they’re touting as part of their brand, part of their values, um, and part of the service that they’re offering their customers.
[00:11:08] And I think it’s important that you have found this industry found an in innovative way for the industry to work in and around and directly on the cause of food insecurity. You’ve doubled down, really focused on how do I not just sort of ask for donations from this industry, but ask for the work, ask for their expertise in terms of moving and provided extra value along the way, and that’s.
[00:11:42] Kind of where I wanna take this conversation. I’m gonna play this, this clip as a part of, part of transition where I was lucky enough to attend one of these fundraising events where all I got was a message from Adam. It was a text message, Hey, wanna pull a truck this week? And I was like, oh, what is he doing?
[00:12:02] And, and sure enough, I found myself pulling a truck. So play that.
[00:14:05] All right, Adam, so what you heard in the background was a lot of noise, music, maybe me being a little winded there. Uh, can you describe what was going on at, at this event that took place in the Bay Area, uh, the other month? It was such an incredible event. Um, we worked with, uh, bam Bay Area Mobility Management, which is a relocation association, um, in the Bay Area.
[00:14:31] And, um, we put together one of our favorite events, which is what we call a truck pull teams of 10 competing to pull a moving truck in the fastest time. Um, we had the most ridiculous venue, the USS Hornet. Which if you’ve never been, I, I recommend it. Um, what, what a ship that was. And they gave us the entire pier.
[00:14:52] Incredibly generous. Um, but we raised a ton of money and it was a lot of fun. And, you know, we had, we had taco trucks and beer trucks and, um, team building and people working together. To do this thing in this moment that they typically wouldn’t do and everyone walked away knowing not only did they pull a truck, um, but the, the funds raised that day were going back to helping us feed thousands of people.
[00:15:16] Um, and it was probably one of our most, one of our largest truck pulls that we’ve done on to date in terms of, um, you know, people coming back out after the pandemic in terms of dollars that were able to be raised. Um, and. We shot a great video from it as well, uh, which has now been used and seen over and over again by others that are now inspired to wanna hold a truck pole in their communities.
[00:15:42] And that’s what we’re trying to think about. How do we, how do we scale these events? Before the pandemic, we were doing a lot of ’em. I think in 2019 we organized nine truck poles. Our plan for 2020 was 16 of them that we had on the books. And then obviously, Covid happened. Um, so this year we did three, and this was one of the three.
[00:16:00] And I was so happy that you were able to be there and see it in person. I didn’t think that you were gonna pull it, uh, yourself, let alone drag me into pulling a truck. It’s been a while. Um, but uh, you know, it’s about creating these fun experiences for people and companies, and that’s what we try. So I wanna unpack this because I think now that we’re in a, you know, knock on wood post pandemic fundraising environment, you’re combining some smart elements.
[00:16:30] One, you’re focused on this industry. So you’re, you’re creating this package that has value, that is aligned with what they do. Moving truck, we’re gonna move the moving truck. You get to pull it, truck pull. It is a unique experience. You’re allowing also teams. Teams to jump in, fundraise to be a part of that.
[00:16:50] You have a unique venue potentially, but this can be done in a parking lot. This can be done in your, you know, asphalt backyard, and it can be paired with conferences. It can be paired with these industry events that are hungry. They are hungry for social ties, impact and particip. And you know, this checks a lot of boxes, so, you know, I think it was really smart to just not just run the event, but also sort of frankly bring, bring the cameras.
[00:17:22] And maybe you can talk a little bit more about how you see this expanding and how you see it as both raising awareness and also funds. Yeah, so, so during Covid, you know, I’d say prior to Covid we were doing a lot of in-person events. We loved in-person events. We did a lot with conferences and associations that we were partnered with, and then, All of that had to stop and we had to change our model, right?
[00:17:45] So everything became virtual. What, what type of virtual team building could we do? We did a virtual karaoke event. We’ve been doing virtual trivias. Um, we found like a lot of different ways to engage people where they were virtual wine tasting, you name it, we were doing it, um, because. We needed to find ways to not only meet people where they were, but also let them feel like they were still giving back.
[00:18:08] If you talk to most charity organizations that utilize volunteers, they were, they were at a standstill as well. People couldn’t come in, so a lot of organizations had trouble actually delivering their services. Um, and it was a, it was a problem. So, It was great during that time for us to be able to be a little bit creative, reinvent a little bit of what we’re doing.
[00:18:30] Now that we’ve kind of come out of c we’re not abandoning that aspect of it. We’re in some cases creating this hybrid experience, right? So, hey, if we’re gonna do a food drive with you on site, uh, maybe it’s one of our favorite ones we call, can the CEO or you fill your CEO’s office with so much food they can no longer get.
[00:18:50] Maybe we’re gonna kick that off with a virtual trivia to educate people about the issues of hunger and food waste. Because while we can’t be there physically for your food drive, um, we can be there to host this great team build that then kicks off and hopefully inspires team members to collect even more food than they would have before.
[00:19:09] Right? So building up that moment, you can use the virtual. Uh, to almost, uh, work toward that in-person event. Um, and when we have these in-person events, then it’s a matter of just engaging your networks and we’re very fortunate to have a lot of networks that, um, we can kind of engage that way. What kind of staff is necessary to run that kind of event?
[00:19:33] Where I’m not quite sure how many people were there, it was a good amount of people, but like, what does a truck pull event staff look like from your, your. So there’s definitely some behind the scenes happening before the event had happened itself. Um, but on site, again, depending on the amount of people that are going to be at the event, but we can usually manage it with two, uh, two people that are staff from for hunger.
[00:20:01] And then maybe a handful of volunteers can probably get away with four volunteers. Um, and that can run a truck full of up to 200 people, uh, most likely. Mm. You know, you hit those numbers and your math begins to, to work out. Uh, especially if you have multiple events, right? Just one and done the sort of, you know, can we do one massive chicken dinner and call it a day?
[00:20:24] It’s sometimes frustrating, I guess, to watch that type of model. And that model was really shaken, I’d say, during the pandemic because, you know, it’s all about this one day of fundraising as opposed to, A part fundraising, part programmatic implementation of an event that is doing the work that needs to be done, local building of awareness of funds, and also donations.
[00:20:54] Like you’re pulling it together in the right way. And it also seems to be more, uh, sustainable because, You’re mixing those two parts. Uh, does, does that make sense? Is that intentional? There are for profit companies out there right now today that regular companies are paying to manage their team building and employee engagement experiences that exists.
[00:21:21] Why can’t we be the ones that do that better? And at least have a charitable twist and an impact arm on it? So instead of some company giving, This for-profit, $10,000 to do whatever it’s going to be. Why not? Why can’t we be the one that’s getting that $10,000 donation, giving people a great experience?
[00:21:40] And then that company also is able to know that they were able to feed a whole bunch of people. Um, that’s kind of the way we think about that. And I agree with you like that model of like the one big dinner. That’s gotta be on the wayside. And we never did the big gala or anything like that. I know. I never got an invite.
[00:21:57] I kept waiting. No, I, well there was nothing to, I invited you a truck pull. Right. Um, instead it was how many of these different food drives fundraisers, special events could we do with our partners? We have a lot of partners, um, and a lot of them make a contribution every. But those partners have employees and those employees can also be champions and advocates and donors and volunteers.
[00:22:23] Um, so, you know, for any other organizations listening, you know, I do not discount the, the network that you have built with your partners because there’s so much more than just a check one time to have their logo on your website. Um, you know, , anytime that we’re going into a big partnership, I don’t lead with a big ask and say, can you give us a hundred thousand dollars?
[00:22:47] I lead with what are you doing from an employee giving an employee engagement standpoint? What can we do to become part of your culture? Because if you do that, they’re gonna stick with you. And most of our partners have stuck with us for over a decade now. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. And it. It’s easier. I’ll say once the flywheel is going, you’ve got like amazing footage of these events and the history and relationships.
[00:23:12] But even starting out, you bring up this, this point that just sort of stuck in my mind for, for folks listening and looking for ideas and it’s like, oh, that’s easy for you to say, you know, you’re dealing with moving in trucks. They’re right there. It’s like so easy. Like, here’s what you actually just gave as a, as a solid idea.
[00:23:27] Maybe you can help me flesh it out a bit more, where. There are corporate engagement, there are corporate activities. There is somebody in HR at Major Fortune 500 companies right now looking for that corporate event, team building. I’m using keywords right now. Team building events for corporate gatherings.
[00:23:49] Take a look at what’s being offered. , see the sort of ropes courses or the escape, the whatever room. Packages that that are being provided. And then ask yourself, are any of these programmatically adjacent to potentially what we do? What would it cost to get someone on our team to do event planning or bring a fundraiser in for event planning and organizing and take a shot at selling it?
[00:24:16] Does that feel like a, like a, a couple, two step approach? Yeah, I mean, it, it can’t hurt, right? Like someone else is getting that business. There’s a market for already. Let’s put the twist on it. Um, and that’s really what we’re trying to, to make work. Um, And, and, and you kind of, uh, mentioned it there as well where it has to feel like it’s connected to your program.
[00:24:44] So it’s not like we’re just picking things that these companies are doing. But there are a couple things like that people wanna do cooking classes. We haven’t done it yet, but if we could find a way to make that work, like, and the costs made. A hundred percent. Um, we could probably find a way to do some sort of zero waste cooking class for a corporate event.
[00:25:08] Um, unfortunately cooking is probably one of the most expensive things from a cost per head standpoint, but we are exploring those options because they do feel very relevant in some cases to the work that we’re doing. Yeah, really. It seems like you, you don’t maybe wanna do all of the things you wanna do one thing or two things pretty darn well have that package ready to go so that you have the costs, the planning all in place so that it’s like, and you fundraising in a box, right?
[00:25:39] Yeah. Um, and, and that, and that honestly is what the truck pull is like. We ship everything to the mover, the truck pulls up, your whole event is in the back of the truck, , right? So it’s, it’s so easy. Cleanup is easy. Setup is easy. Um, and, and that’s what we want. We wanna create events that can scale. Um, you cannot scale a foundation, gala, dinner in 30 locations and a hundred locations.
[00:26:04] The amount of time and resources that it takes to plan those things, it doesn’t make sense. You’ll never be able to do. But can we scale some of the things that we’re doing virtually or, or can the CEO Food drive? Absolutely. What is the price point? What are the resources? What are our costs? And ultimately, most importantly, I would say, what is the impact?
[00:26:24] Because, you know, you can do all these things and not raise any money or food in our case, and what’s the point of doing it? So there’s gotta be impact. The, the ROIs gonna be worth it that way. And for, I just wanna come back to the, to the staff. Cause I feel like I’m glossing over some of the complexity inherited in event planning.
[00:26:47] You know, is this a position that you would sell something potentially then hire a part-time event planner? Like what is like the zero to one for implementing, we’ll say a programmatically aligned corporate event fundraising. Thing. That’s, that’s the secret sauce. Georgia, but , that’s why I’m asking. But, but you know what I, what I a hundred percent will say is you need to create it first, right?
[00:27:21] Mm-hmm. , you need to test it, and then you need to do a few of them. Um, once you’ve done a few, you can learn really what your price point is, and then once you feel comfortable selling, Then you can ultimately begin to start hiring that part-time, then full-time person to be able to implement some of these things.
[00:27:38] Um, when we started, you know, we didn’t have an events person. Um, fortunately my background is experiential events. I was doing event marketing before I started Move for Hunger, so I’ve always loved that aspect. I could, I could plan one truck pull. Could I plan 30 and do some of them simultaneously? No, you need support for that.
[00:27:57] Um, and by the way, it’s not just an event planner, it’s who’s doing your marketing, your photography, your graphic design to bring this stuff to life. Like there are more elements that go into just those things besides the two staff members that are on site to actually physically run the events itself.
[00:28:17] You can build that small. Not everything needs to be big and grand, um, to begin with. Um, but I will say there’s a lot of, uh, tricks and ways to cheat to do some of that, to make it feel grander than it is. You’d be surprised just having a branded tent, top canopy at something with your table, bring a tent.
[00:28:38] It all, all of a sudden looks like an event. A tent does not cost that much money. Um, but without that tent there, it looks like it’s a much smaller spectacle. Um, but now with the tent, you’ve got some images that you can take and, you know, those are the things that make things feel real. Yeah, I think that makes it just like a lot more practic.
[00:28:58] Because sometimes it’s, you know, like watching someone at the, you know, top of the top of their game already going full speed, being like, it’s easy. You just, you know, put one foot in front of the other, you’re like, no, you started small. You grinded it out. You figured it. But I think those are, those are some great first steps.
[00:29:16] Uh, alright, well. Thank you for, for sharing those points. Are there any other big things? Cuz I’ve already done the, the rapid fire with you at least twice I think. Um, are there any other final points, you know, you’re thinking about as we we move into the end of the year for, for Move for Hunger or what’s getting you excited?
[00:29:37] Um, you know, we did a few things. At the end of this year and like tried some new campaigns that worked really well. Um, and I’d say the reason that they worked really well. Was because we had the right champions in place and the companies that we were working with. So this is not only something that I planned to do more of in 2023, but also that I would really, really encourage other organizations and companies to do.
[00:30:05] And I’m just gonna leave you with two very quick examples. Um, one of which I just did last week, um, in, uh, Amelia Island, Florida. Um, we were at a conference with one of our partner. They were planning to do a little fundraiser for us anyway, and they had dueling pianos as their entertainment. Um, I talked to the CEO and and said, Hey, How much would it take to get you up there singing a song?
[00:30:29] Right? And he said a lot of money. So I got on stage and I told everyone that if we raised $5,000, he’s gonna get up and sing a song. And you know what? We raised $7,500 and it was just so much fun, um, to be able to do that and to see his employees want to support his embarrassment, if you will. He’s got very little shame.
[00:30:54] And it was one of the easiest fundraisers that we’ve ever done, and the cost was virtually nothing. I was there anyway. Um, and the same thing happened a couple weeks prior where we’re in Las Vegas. Um, and it’s really hard to get anyone’s attention at a convention in Las Vegas cuz there’s so many distractions.
[00:31:10] Um, but one of the larger CEOs of one of the companies that was there agreed to jump off the stratosphere about two weeks before you can, you can do it. It’s a thing that people are allowed to. So the, one of the tallest buildings in Vegas, and I, I asked, I’m like, Hey, would you be willing to jump off this building if we were able to raise some money?
[00:31:28] And he said, I’m in. And this guy, by the way, is one of the nicest kind of CEOs, TER Global Relocation, has been a partner of ours for a long time. Such a cool guy. And. He jumped off the stratosphere. We created a lot of buzz for his company at that conference, and we raised a whole bunch of money to kind of support the cause.
[00:31:47] These are things that don’t take a lot of resources. Instead, what they take is who are the people are willing to embarrass themselves? Put their lives in danger. Do something fun or silly. Small stuff, right? Let’s, let’s not put everyone’s life in danger, but do something fun and silly. Um, and, and think about tapping their network, not just your network, but their network.
[00:32:10] Um, I know that’s like basic peer to peer fundraising, but when you can do that at scale with the CEO or a C-Suite executive, it really goes a long way. And, and we were really thrilled. To see how well those two activations went for us. I think it’s testament to how ingrained you are with this niche community, this niche business network, and then you kind of know it and go all in.
[00:32:35] And I think we can get a little insular in the the non-profit world where we forget that there are entire industries just around moving companies. And like that’s just one of many, many, many company networks that are out there. Like, here’s another game. Look at Vegas conferences coming up. Just the random Vegas conferences coming up.
[00:32:59] And look at how many random things that you didn’t realize. Professional networks gathering together, looking and needing to stand out. And I think those types of opportunities will present themselves. Adam, thanks. I hope you are doing even better next year. More truck pulls and more food delivered to those in need.
[00:33:22] Uh, again, how do people find you? How do people help you? You can visit move for hunger.org. You can make a donation. You can hold a food drive, you can donate your food when you move, you can advocate, you can learn about the issues of hunger and food waste, and share our content. Um, and you can show up at a truck pull, uh, near you.
[00:33:40] George, I hope to have you out to another truck, pull or put your life in danger at some point in the new year. Um, and I, I always really do appreciate, uh, having the opportunity to, to reconnect my friend. Well, thanks for your work and appreciate it.