October 27, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Beth Ostdiek Smith was working at her old job and was amazed to hear about the amount of healthy meals and snacks that were being thrown out at the end of the day. She knew of an organization in Arizona called Waste Not, a perishable food rescue that was run by one of her sister’s friends. She thought Omaha could use something similar to address the city’s hunger problem.

Smith, who had been involved with local businessman Jerry Hoberman’s Winners Circle program and later in Partnership 4 Kids, both of which helped students in the Omaha Public Schools system, was looking for a new venture. Late in 2012, she met with members of the Hunger Free Heartland, which included the Food Bank, three of the city’s largest pantries, and some members of former Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s staff to explore the need for a perishable food rescue. She says all agreed this would fill a niche not being met in the community.

Smith traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., in February 2013 to meet with the head of Waste Not.

Smith gathered information about how the company picked up food donations from different restaurants, caterers, and other food purveyors, and then delivered them to local nonprofits that feed the needy. She came back to Omaha and went about raising funds and building partnerships to create what would become Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and Delivery.

“We do not have a food problem in Omaha but a food connection problem,” Smith, president and founder of Saving Grace, says. “Saving Grace’s perishable food pipeline addresses that issue.”

One of the first partners was Akin’s Natural Foods, which was just coming to Omaha. Company officials agreed to donate food. Now Saving Grace has 10 regularly scheduled donors, including Trader Joe’s, Greenberg Fruit, three Pizza Ranch locations, and Attitude on Food.

One of the biggest purchases that Saving Grace needed to get running was a refrigerated truck so workers could collect and deliver perishable food such as dairy, produce, meats, prepared foods, and grains. Saving Grace does not have a warehouse, and all pick-ups and donations are done on the same day, Smith says. A good truck, therefore, is a must.

Several years ago, Smith had met former Precision Industries CEO Dennis Circo (featured on the cover of this month’s issue of our sister publication, B2B magazine) through Omaha businessman Willie Thiessen, and decided to approach Circo about helping fund her new venture. Circo said he wasn’t sure it would work, but took a leap of faith and agreed to buy the refrigerated truck. He also donated office space to the nonprofit at his new Enterprise Center on 96th and L streets.

Saving Grace delivers food to 10 nonprofit groups, including the Bethlehem House, Heart Ministries, Hope Center for Kids, Open Door Mission and Siena/Francis House. Food rescue and delivery operations started last September.

Smith said the goal for Saving Grace was to deliver 300 pounds of food a day for the first three months, then add an additional 200 pounds of food a day every three months. After nine months of delivering, 152,842 pounds of food have been delivered to the needy. Smith said that besides the partnerships her group has made with donors and financial backers, Saving Grace has been successful because she and others have met with all the recipients to determine what their food needs are. The less those organizations must worry about where their food will be coming from, she says, the more time they will have to help meet the other needs of their clientele, like finding jobs and repairing broken lives.

“I see this as a movement, really,” Smith says. “People want to know where their food goes, and I think we’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg [of this venture’s potential].”

Smith hopes to purchase another truck and continue to grow the number of recipients, donors, and financial partners. Educating the public on how they can help feed the hungry while saving landfills by getting the word out on Saving Grace are also big priorities moving forward.

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org for more information on Saving Grace.

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