Tony Colley knows what it feels like to be hungry.
Three years ago at age 44, the former banker had only $278 to his name after a failed business venture. He went on welfare, paid his rent, but didn’t have enough to eat through the day and fuel his six-foot-five-inch frame.
“I would have my first meal around three o’clock in the afternoon,” said Colley. “I would get up in the morning and go to the gym so I wouldn’t have to think about eating.”
He hid this secret from everyone except his mother. Depression sank in deep.
“I just kept up with appearances by keeping a roof over my head,” said Colley who admitted he was too embarrassed to use a food bank at the time.
‘We can’t throw this in the garbage’
A turning point came when Colley got a part-time job as an event manager for a Toronto catering company — one that would lead to him starting a social enterprise that has collected and delivered over 11,000 pounds of food.
He noticed how much excess food would get dumped at the end of an event.
His manager allowed staff to take home leftovers after their shift, but Colley noticed there was still food left when guest numbers were lower than expected.
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘We can’t throw this in the garbage because there are other people who could eat this food.'”
Around the same time, he had read an article that said Canada had a $31-billion food-waste problem.
Colley would pack up a few containers for himself to eat and freeze throughout the week. Then he would take the rest to a local shelter on his bike.
He began to do it so frequently that he was motivated to create a platform where more food retailers, like restaurants, food courts and hotels, could save their excess food for others who could eat it.
‘Uber Eats Style’ food rescue
Colley launched Be One To Give (B12Give) last May to combat food waste and food insecurity in the GTA.
While he acknowledges there are other agencies working to reduce food waste, he describes Be12Give as “Canada’s 1st barrier-free food diversion program,” meaning it goes directly from retailer to shelter within an hour.
Retail partners like The Food Dudes, where Colley used to work, will notify him by text when they have leftover food available for pick up. They pay a monthly fee for the service.
“I thought it was pretty incredible when he came to me about it,” said Raxx Phim, kitchen manager at Food Dudes.
“If we show up to an event for 400 people, and there’s’ only 100, we came already prepared with all the food, we can’t use it again for another event so we donate it.”
Colley will then take the surplus food by transit or car-share to a nearby shelter like Dixon Hall and Margaret’s.
“We are the only one that operates similar to an Uber Eats style of platform, where we pick up, and everything we collect over the course of an hour is dropped off,” said Colley.
Shelters like Margaret’s East Toronto Drop-In are grateful for the the surplus food.
“You have clients who are hungry a lot. Once we have a food rescue here like Tony, it makes a huge difference,” said Leon White, the operations manager at Margaret’s East.
Hoping for more donating partners
Colley says the biggest challenge has been retailers reluctant to donate because they’re worried they might get sued if they inadvertently pass on contaminated food and someone gets sick.
But Ontario’s Donation of Food Act and the province’s Good Samaritan Act protect those who are willing to donate leftovers and fresh food.
So far, Colley estimates he has saved and delivered enough food to serve 8,500 meals.
He hopes to redistribute food on a much larger scale with the launch of an app later this year, which he says will make the process for retailers easier.