When Sue Liming was a teacher at Goldrick Elementary School in Denver’s Athmar Park neighborhood, she was keenly aware of how many students didn’t have access to healthy, affordable food. Combined with her food service experiences seeing tons of food thrown away each night, finding We Don’t Waste was just what she needed.
“It married my two passions of taking care of people who need it and not wasting stuff,” Liming said.
We Don’t Waste is one of the largest food recovery and distribution services in Colorado. Arlan Preblud founded the organization in 2009, picking up leftover food from caterers and delivering it to nearby nonprofits in his Volvo. Now, the organization delivers food to more than 100 hunger-relief organizations, and is continuing to expand its services with mobile programs and education programs.
“There’s food over here, and there’s a need, let’s put them together — that’s what I did,” Preblud said. “When you stop to think about it, it’s a very simple process. You take food that’s destined for the landfill – nutritious and good food – and you give it to people that don’t have any food.”
We Don’t Waste has identified 50 Denver neighborhoods that qualify as food deserts, which are places where access to fresh, affordable healthy food is low and poverty rates are typically above average. A few years ago, We Don’t Waste compared a map of Denver food deserts to the map of where it was providing services, and found its services weren’t reaching many of the communities that needed them, Preblud said.
This exercise spurred the idea for mobile food markets that bring free groceries to neighborhoods throughout Denver, where anyone who needs it can come and shop, Preblud said. There are currently eight markets per month at rotating locations in Aurora, Lakewood and the Denver neighborhoods of Globeville, Sunnyside and Clayton.
The markets are designed to allow patrons to take their time choosing the food they want to eat in a welcoming setting, Preblud said.
“They can shop with dignity, and get the food that they want, not a bag of food that they take home and they open it and find that they don’t know what it is, they don’t know how to prepare it or they don’t like it,” Preblud said.
Sue and Dean Liming have been volunteering at a mobile market near Goldrick since 2021, unloading groceries and helping patrons navigate the market. They like feeling connected to their community and giving back, knowing their time directly helps people who need it.
“I just love the environment and the vibe here. Music is playing and everyone seems to be having a good time,” Dean Liming said. “After the first time of doing it, I was hooked.”
For volunteers who want to participate but don’t live near the mobile market sites, the We Don’t Waste app, called We Rescue, connects local restaurants throughout Denver with drivers who can pick up leftover food and deliver it to a nearby nonprofit or to the We Don’t Waste distribution center on Broadway Avenue between 58th street and 62nd.
We Don’t Waste is also working with Denver Public Schools to audit their cafeterias and identify how they can waste less food. Teachers are also bringing students to We Don’t Waste to learn about food deserts, food waste and how to decrease their own personal waste, Preblud said.
The organization partners with schools throughout neighborhoods in Denver, including DCIS at Fairmont in Baker, Bruce Randolph School in Clayton, Castro Elementary in Westwood, Denver Academy in University Hills, Hamilton Middle School in Hampden and the Denver Jewish Day School.
By partnering with schools, religious spaces and nonprofits, We Don’t Waste can better understand each community’s needs and desires, said Allie Hoffman, director of impact and engagement for We Don’t Waste.
“We’re not going to come into a neighborhood and say ‘here, you need this.’ That’s not our job,” Hoffman said. “Communities know what they need, so rather, we work with a host partner who can say ‘we’ve talked to our community members, and they want this.’”
With new programs and the high demand for services, We Don’t Waste moved into an upgraded building, located on 39th Avenue near Kearney Street, in November to expand how much food it can collect and distribute, as well as its educational programs for both schools and the general community. With larger classrooms and a new kitchen space, We Don’t Waste can teach people about food saving habits and teach them how to turn their groceries into nutritious meals, Preblud said.
Seeing the organization expand to serve so many neighborhoods every week has been amazing, Hoffman said. She added that it’s clear that everyone who works with We Don’t Waste does so because they care about creating happy, healthy, fed communities.
“It feels good to know in this small corner of the world, in this small part of my community, I’m able to do something useful and beneficial with my time,” Hoffman said.