Happy Birthday SOS! Food rescue organisation turns 1

Abigail Smith at market

Abigail Smith of SOS at the 100km Market

We first met Abigail Smith and her Scholars of Sustenance team in 2016 when we were on the lookout for a food bank initiative in Thailand. They’re doing this and so much more. We recently caught up with them for a Q&A session as the group reached its 1st anniversary.

Happy Birthday SOS! Your organisation has just turned 1 and in that time you’ve rescued over 45 tons of food from landfills. How much of that food (%) was edible and who did it go to?

Thanks! We are so proud and feel we are really starting to gain momentum here in Bangkok. Our team is excited to see what we can do in 2017 and beyond!

Currently only about 22% is used as edible donations and our main goal in 2017 is to raise that percentage. While we love our composting project we are seeing an immediate need for food in some communities and really want to be able to serve these lovely people better.

We are working with many types of communities. As our donations vary in style and quantities we are finding that matching the right food with the right people is absolutely key to making impact. For large bulk donations (like dry rice, canned goods, oils, bulk fruit etc… ) we match with places with large number of residents in their programs and that have storage and cooking facilities. Most notably is the Half Way Home for Men with Mental Disabilities who have 500 adult residents and a budget of only 60thb per resident a day for all meals. Here we are trying to push higher nutrition meals by introducing easy-to-cook, high value foods like par-boiled rice.

Other communities receiving bulk donations are: Mercy Center Orphanage in Klong Toei, and Seub Nakhasathien Foundation (in conjunction with the Thai Forest Rangers). For our pre-cooked meals which normally come in portions to feed 4-5 people, we are finding great success working with Asylum Access to help identify and find the 8,000 Urban Refugees that live in Bangkok. As they normally live with immediate family and each family has a fridge or cooktop they can easily manage meals packaged like this. It is also nice as we often get international cuisine. We can pair this to where people are from, not only providing them with calories and nutrients, but a taste of home too! For example: breads and croissants for Vietnamese communities, certain curries to Pakistani communities, flat breads and brown rices to Somalian communities, etc…

Tesco workers with food donation in shopping trolleys

Collecting food donations from Tesco

Where do you source the food you rescue? What type of food does SOS receive?

We guarantee all donors anonymity to protect them legally. I also find many of donors are not doing this for publicity but simply because it is the right thing to do. So I cannot name names if you will, but we are working with large grocery store chains, 5-star hotels, grocery delivery services, and even food-court type places where we provide a fridge and each vendor can donate as they can. We pick up daily in our cooler truck.

Now that farmers we work with on composting are starting to get their gardens up and running we are beginning to see donations coming in that way as well! It is really lovely because it illustrates the full circle of how programs like this work and the fruits and veg these farm produce are incredibly healthy as all of our farms strive to be as sustainable and organic as possible.

What were the highlights of SOS’s 1st year? 

We have so many! There are always the little day things; giving food to individuals and seeing their smiles; engaging with our farmers and watching their practices change; introducing farmers to each other in order to exchange ideas; supporting Thailand’s agricultural community and going out to events where we hope to change people’s minds about the image of food waste; when you see the lightbulb flick on and you know they will take that information and change their practices at home!

Personally my biggest highlight has been bringing together an incredible team that I know will drive our projects to great success.

Overall for the foundation it has been the purchase of our 2 vehicles, getting some big donors to sign up and being featured on ThaiPBS Common People in a segment called Food from the Heart which broadcast our message to millions. Most recently the incredible collaboration we are setting with Scholars of Sustenance and the tremendous OzHarvest foundation from Australia along with Sustainable Chef Challenge we worked on together in December. And of course being featured in the Nikkei Asian Review.

SOS compost pile

Adding to the pile – one of the SOS compost projects

Are you experiencing an increase in interest from potential donors offering their food? After one year in operation is it now easier to convince donors to join?

I feel SOS has found their voice this year, we are getting better at communicating and working with donors every day. We have learned to navigate their needs and how to better serve the beneficiary communities. We have been able to show proven success on our own and that this can and will work – that it absolutely makes a difference. We NEED more food donors, we are always seeking! This will be our total focus for 2017.

Where does the rescued food that can’t be consumed go?

Our donors are really good at following our guidelines. We rarely receive items we wouldn’t donate. If we do we attempt to add to the compost if compatible. If not it still sadly goes to the bin.

I would like to take a breath here and remind people and vendors that they can do their own on food waste issues everyday by; only buying what you need, proper storage and refrigeration, and always, sharing with your neighbors if you can’t finish what you bought before it spoils!

food in bags

Surplus food ready for distribution

Your organisation in conjunction with The Big Trees group has been instrumental in kicking off the 100km Market at the Shangri-La Hotel. How many markets have you held there and how is that going?

The market is really a true collaboration of so many groups coming together – The Don Kuson Community Bike Shop, FabCafe, CHOMP, Share Soap, 7Spoons, and of course, The Bangkok River Partners! Also our farmers who use this as a space to network and share ideas on becoming sustainable, some being active NGOs themselves.

We have held 2 markets at Shangri La and have our next 3 scheduled: 12th March, 2 April, 7 May! All in the 100km has had 11 Markets including the efforts at FabCafe. We have around 30 vendors at these Markets and growing. There are restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks, fruit and veg producers, smoothies, soap and handy craft.

At the 100km on 12 March, we are proud to be launching some new concepts like a Children’s Corner, live music, and starting a 15km Urban Community bike ride to depart from there at the end of the Market – a free activity if you have your own ride.

In future we hope to include workshops like: How to Compost at Home, Cooking from Waste, and Bicycle Repair. I want to stress that this is just not a normal market. We encourage guests to bring food, soap, toys, clothes to donate. We also have a Buy 2 Give 1 concept. If  you are buying 1 bar of soap, why not buy 2 and share with someone who needs this product. All of these collected goods are taken out to the communities we regularly work with the following day.

What goals do you have for SOS in this 2nd year? 

Our first and most important goal is attracting a greater quantity of edible donations. We hope to also further stabilize our compost program to allow future growth and launch at least 3 edible gardens. If anyone wants to donate or volunteer, please do reach out to us, and we will work with you to ensure your donation goes to the right place and if you give us time we will ensure it is a meaningful and educational experience for you.

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