412 Food Rescue’s Community Takeout program has provided a lifeline to many local restaurants during the pandemic — and has fed a lot of local people facing food insecurity.

Of the 33 restaurants supported in the first two rounds of Community Takeout, all but one have survived the pandemic so far. Now, Community Takeout is expanding for a third round, and will be open to any Allegheny County restaurant — except those in the city of Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Penn Hills (due to funding requirements) — that wants to participate.

“With community support, we have been able to pour $410,000 into treasured small businesses and provide 55,000 meals for people in need,” says Leah Lizarondo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue. “Restaurants are such important spaces for connection and community, and we are committed to supporting the service industry workers who make those experiences possible.”

Community Takeout works like this: after the day’s meals are prepared by participating restaurants, 412 Food Rescue’s volunteer “Food Rescue Heroes” make no-contact delivery to their nonprofit partners. Some will also bring meals directly to homebound households via Home Delivery, a program to help the elderly and others vulnerable to Covid.

“It not only was a great source of income when it was very slow and we were just doing takeout, but it helped us keep some employees that otherwise would have been furloughed or laid off,” says Aimee DiAndrea, co-owner of DiAnoia’s Eatery in the Strip District.

This third round of Community Takeout aims to supply another 100,000 meals and support more than 60 restaurants.

Community Takeout was inspired by a longtime 412 Food Rescue supporter, Dr. Mark Baratz, who independently launched a program called DoublePlay in the early days of the pandemic. The program included restaurants such as Dancing Crab Thai Noodle House, Salem’s Market and Grill and Chicken Latino in May 2020.

The last round of Community Takeout focused on 19 Downtown restaurants, reeling from the lack of Cultural District events and empty offices while so many people are working from home. In partnership with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Community Takeout program currently pays 19 Downtown restaurants approximately $24,000 total per week to prepare more than 3,000 meals each week.

“The community has helped us threefold,” says Spencer Warren, owner of the Warren Bar & Burrow in Downtown Pittsburgh. “We were able to give staff hours, help eliminate food waste in the restaurant and we get to feed our community.”

Tyler England, executive chef at DiAnoia’s Eatery, holds Community Takeout meals. Photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue.
Tyler England, executive chef at DiAnoia's Eatery, holds Community Takeout meals. Photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue.

More than 100,000 restaurants closed nationwide before September 2020. More than 5 million service industry workers lost their jobs in April of 2020 alone. Some returned as outdoor dining began in earnest, then there was another wave of layoffs during the colder months.

Community Takeout meals from Bae Bae’s Kitchen.
Community Takeout meals from Bae Bae's Kitchen.

“This program has given Bae Bae’s additional support during these dark and difficult times,” says Edward Lai, owner of Bae Bae’s Kitchen in Downtown Pittsburgh. “The only way out is together and through community.”

New restaurants can apply online for the third phase of Community Takeout.

412 Food Rescue
Photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue.

412 Food Rescue is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that uses an app to divert excess food bound for landfills to people in need. The nonprofit recently won Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award. Since the organization began in 2015, its team of 10,000-plus volunteer drivers has redirected more than 17 million pounds of food from landfills in western Pennsylvania,

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.