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May 5, 2021
Nonprofit Interviews

Getting to know Replate: A short conversation with Maen Mahfoud

A homeless person rifles through a trash can in search of anything that might resemble a meal. In this particular trash can on this particular day, they hit pay dirt, but life is cruel for those at the bottom. As an old half-eaten sandwich is withdrawn from its wrapping, its contents spill out onto the sticky pavement alongside the cigarette butts, hardened gum and animal droppings that litter the street. Undeterred, perhaps from exhaustion or desperation, they gather what is salvageable and call it lunch. 

This is the scene painted for me by Maen Mahfoud, Founder and CEO of Replate. It stood out for him because he witnessed it in one of the richest cities in the world, home to some of the richest people in the world, and it was everywhere he looked. 

This level of poverty and food insecurity didn’t exist in his hometown in Syria, nor did the normalization of countless scenes like this that occur around many of us daily. Maen and his brother grew up delivering meals to his neighbors by bike. This wasn’t a job and he wasn’t getting paid. It was an understanding in his family and a dedication to their community. They weren’t allowed to eat until his neighbors ate. This principle still clearly pushes Maen, but thankfully his reach has extended beyond where a squeaky single-speed might take him.

Replate is a Berkeley-based tech nonprofit that delivers food to those in need to help break the cycle of poverty. They estimate they have delivered 2.3 million meals around the US since it first started upcycling meals in 2016. For Replate, each meal represents an opportunity to show love and respect for community and our planet. 

How Replate works

Replate’s matching algorithm and services are powered by a team of software engineers and data scientists. Places of business with uncontaminated food (caterers, school campuses, restaurants, corporate dining programs, supermarkets, etc.) submit items they have available. Replate drivers are routed towards these pick-up locations and then ushered off to one of hundreds of participating drop-off centers that have asked for support. Removing all friction from the system is a necessary reality to maximizing participation. According to Maen, it’s “as easy as ordering an Uber.” 

To ensure recipients are provided the freshest meals, worthy of any family dining table, this matching is always done in real-time. The company controls for cultural food types and allergies. Donors can track their generosity in transit and are presented with a series of metrics that track their ongoing impact. For the more hard-nosed, they can also claim a tax donation.

Replate operates around the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Austin, Dallas, Chicago, Boston, New York City, and Columbus, Ohio, and has audacious ambition to grow its service area considerably in the months and years to come.

Replate’s model has also started to go beyond feeding the hungry and malnourished. The company is starting to find suitable second lives for electronics, furniture, clothing and other items that might otherwise find their way to a landfill. Replate will rescue just about anything to create a “world that doesn’t expire,” a sort of unofficial slogan I’m told. 

Food waste is a critical source of greenhouse gases

For Maen and the Replate team, the business of resolving food insecurity is also a critical climate solution. Americans waste nearly 40% of their food each year, and it’s estimated that roughly a third of the world’s food is never eaten. The production of food uses water, energy, land, fertilizer, labor and financial capital and generates greenhouse gases at every step. Decaying food is a major source of methane emissions too. All in, food waste is estimated to account for roughly 8 percent of global emissions

Maen recognizes that this is largely an infrastructure problem. More efficient recognition and matching of surplus with need is a solvable problem, and this core challenge is at the heart of Replate’s work. This purpose places Replate among a small group of mission-driven nonprofit entities in the world that are also on the cutting edge of technology development.  

On the horizon for Replate 

For many operating within this industry and serving at-risk communities, nutritional content and quality of calories is just as important as maximizing calories for those in need. Soon, Replate stakeholders will be able to view the nutritional value of food delivered and meals consumed. Mass consumption of processed foods have widely contributed to health risks in the US.

Maen informs me that this feature development comes down to ensuring that all people are treated with respect and love. The quality of meals delivered are a reflection of the value society places on those in need, and it leaves a real psychological imprint on meal recipients - it helps build or aids in dismantling their self-respect. Greater awareness of this is needed so resources can be more wisely distributed. 

Maen’s tips to stay involved and take action

  1. Support local business. Healthy localized economies help build equity and resilience within each of our communities, providing sustainable income for more people. 
  1. Reduce waste at home. Food waste is highest within each of our homes. Consciously reducing waste is good for the planet and good for our pocketbooks. Community fridges are popping up in neighborhoods around the country to help ensure food never sees the inside of a waste basket.  
  1. Give a little, when you can. Mission-aligned organizations like Replate rely on our sense of responsibility for each other and for creating a more just world for all. Organizations that have surplus food can reach out to Replate here, or people can give directly to Replate. You can also set up recurring gifting directly to Replate from your climate-positive AtmosACTION savings account. Every cent matters. 
  1. Educate yourself. Enjoy life and all that comes with it, and do so in a conscientious manner that acknowledges the consequences of our actions, both individually and as a collective.    

Atmos offers high-rate, online FDIC-insured banking accounts that simplify and reward giving, and where every dollar deposited is used to reduce global warming. JoinAtmos to support Replate.

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