JERSEY CITY — Stemming from its selection for the National Resource Defense Council's "Food Matters" cohort two years ago, this Hudson County city is in the early stages of implementing something called food rescue mapping, to identify and nourish neighborhoods in need.

The effort combines the concepts of food rescue, where an establishment or manufacturer will arrange to have excess food diverted from its waste systems, with food banking, or moving that excess into pantries and soup kitchens, said Stacey Flanagan, Jersey City health and human services director.

This leftover food is typically already prepared and not shelf-stable, as Flanagan gave the example of a restaurant that has lasagna on its menu, prepares a full lasagna for its dinner service, but only gets two orders and is left with eight more unused.

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"Food rescue is taking that lasagna, what was not served, and getting it over to a soup kitchen," she said.

Alexander Mirescu, the manager of this citywide project, said many of the businesses officials have reached out to for potential involvement are owned by women, minorities, or immigrants — about 1,400 in total, through communication in English and Spanish.

They will see their annual refrigeration costs go down, he said, by not having to store food they may never sell.

A win for taxpayers too

Plus, the city stands to spend less on hauling, which will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately ease the burden on taxpayers.

"Let's not only have a food security model, and let's not only reduce our food waste, but let's support our small and medium-size enterprises in Jersey City," Mirescu said.

While officials hope to see "significant" savings start to show in another three to six months, they are also already thinking about a much bigger picture.

Flanagan said meal kit bigshots like HelloFresh and Blue Apron routinely change their menus, and Jersey City wants to help move their unused product to food banks and soup kitchens.

Could other NJ towns use this model?

Some of those locations are within the city, but discussions with other New Jersey municipalities could expand this program even further.

"Places where we can't get to someone fast enough, this is how some of these pantries that already have food that they can move are helping," Flanagan said.

She also mentioned an app called "Too Good To Go" that shows, on a nightly basis, which establishments are willing to surrender leftover food and where.

Mirescu said as helpful as the system may eventually be for the food insecure, eyes also remain on the bottom line to some degree.

"This is a practice that really any community, small, medium, large, could look into and use our example and save money," he said.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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