Change Agents


By Katherine Pioli

It all started in the college Praxis Lab at the University of Utah, in 2016. Ten students taking one of the University Honor’s College’s special semester intensive courses were asked to dig into the problems facing our food systems.

According to the United Nations, one-third of all food globally goes to waste. That adds up to $750 billion of food waste each year. In Utah, that problem makes up about 20% of all the waste in our landfills—yes, one fifth of all the waste that gets dumped was once edible. And while all that is rotting away, 144,000 working Utahns say they can’t afford enough food.

Designed to be more than a normal undergrad class, Praxis pushed students beyond simply reading and absorbing lectures about issues and regurgitating facts in term papers. After an initial phase of study, the students identified something within the context of the class that they wanted to work on, an issue they could create a solution for. And so the students started Salt Lake Excess.

“Our taskforce identified waste as a key food systems issue,” explains Salt Lake Excess Program Manager Olivia Juarez. “Local restaurants and farmers throw away a lot that could be going to people in need, but most businesses won’t pay to have the food delivered to organizations that need food donations. Businesses have a bottom line to look after.” The problem, explains Juarez, isn’t that people don’t want to donate extra food, it’s usually just a lack of infrastructure that makes linking those with food to give away with those in need a time consuming and expensive proposition. With Excess, she says, “now they can do that for free.”

Juarez is working hard to have the foundations set to begin taking action by the time next school year gets off the ground in the fall. The program already has five committed donor partners and three recipient partners, including some Salt Lake County senior citizen centers, eagerly waiting for pick-ups and deliveries to start.

Here’s how the program will work: Donors create an online account where they can post excess food when it comes available and a time that it can be picked up. Then the donor packages the food donation and records the weight, date and cost equivalent of the donated food. The account entry, which is linked to an app, then notifies one of the many volunteer student Excess deliverers who pick up the donation.  Claiming the food is just as easy (for qualifying organizations). Create an account, select the foods needed and look for a notification when it comes available. Claim the food and a helpful volunteer will deliver it.

If you are interested in volunteering with Salt Lake Excess, or if you would like to find out more about becoming a donor or a recipient email: You can also check out their website and create an account at

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This article was originally published on June 1, 2017.