Rethink Food NYC is doing that thing you’ve always thought should be done – transforming unused food from grocery stores, restaurants, and other sources into ready-to-eat meals that are then delivered to local NYC organizations for distribution. Rethink Food NYC also goes beyond meals by using food as the tool to promote poverty solutions, participate in nutrition education, and convene food policy events. Director of Operations Sarah Munger is only in her late twenties, but she runs the show at this Brooklyn based non-profit that recently raised almost half a million dollars at their gala with Neil Patrick Harris. We talked with Sarah about how she got involved with the organization, what her day-to-day looks like, and how her background in finance helps her now.
Downtown: How did you get involved with Rethink Food NYC?
Sarah Munger: I was working in the financial industry but knew that I wanted to pivot and pursue my passion for food justice and sustainability as a career. In the fall of 2017, I read an article in Civil Eats magazine about Rethink’s pilot program and immediately reached out to Matt to get involved! It was exactly the kind of mission I wanted to work towards. The rest was history.
Downtown: What is a typical day like for you at work?
SM: As the Director of Operations, I oversee all daily operations – our culinary program, truck operations, and pick-up/drop-off logistics – as well as our data management, workforce strategy, finance, HR, development, and a few special projects. Wearing multiple hats means every day and week can be pretty different, but involves a mix of reporting, spending time in our kitchen, one-on-ones with my staff, onboarding new donors, organizing weekly logistics, meetings with our various partners, and strategy sessions with our Executive Director.
Downtown: What are some of the obstacles (both legally and logistically) to the operation?
SM: A common challenge I face is explaining to potential donors that donating food is safe and legal – there is zero liability for donating food in good faith and donors are protected under the Good Samaritan laws, as well as Rethink’s indemnification agreements.
Another challenge is simply that this model is a new way of handling excess food and repurposing it into new meals for underserved communities. Food businesses aren’t used to a comprehensive food donation program, so there tends to be an adjustment period when we onboard and educate new partners to help them maximize the amount of food they’re able to donate.
Downtown: How did you background prepare you for this role?
SM: My background in financial services allowed me to develop strong analytical, people management, and client relationship skills. While our Executive Director has a culinary background, I provide an organizational development perspective that has allowed our organization to grow with his vision.
Downtown: How did the beer collaboration come to be?
SM: The Rethink Beer was born out of the desire to demonstrate that exciting high-quality products can be created using excess ingredients and can act as a new form of fundraising for Rethink. We have a long-standing partnership with The NoMad, who donated the excess citrus rinds for the beer, and were introduced to Jeppe at Evil Twin who’s always excited to be innovative in his approaches. The beer was created using the spent grain from a prior batch in the style of what’s known as a small beer and the NoMad citrus. It was a huge success, and we’re looking forward to more beers and products to come.
Downtown: What are you most excited about for future with Rethink Food NYC?
SM: We’ve grown rapidly in the past year, and we’re only just getting started! In addition to increasing the number of meals we’re able to serve on a daily basis, I’m looking forward to innovative partnerships and collaborations with other food organizations, foundations, and businesses. I believe strongly in working together across businesses, industries, and communities to solve problems and enact change, and we’re so excited to expand our reach. There’s no better time to get involved—and I urge all New Yorkers to learn more about our work at RethinkFood.NYC.