Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit food rescue organization, focusing on redistributing excess food to people experiencing food insecurity. RLC is headquartered in New York City and operating across the United States.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Luke Petronella, and I am the photographer, videographer, and brand ambassador for Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. I am a recent graduate of Brooklyn College, with a degree in Film Production, and I currently reside in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I am extremely passionate about filmmaking and music, but beyond that, I have found my purpose in helping my neighbors and community.
How did you learn about RLC and what inspired you to volunteer with RLC?
At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I had a lot of trouble making friends. I felt alone, isolated, and hopeless inside of a large school, and an even larger city. My mental health was poor to say the least, and I believed that I had no purpose outside of my lonely pursuit in wanting to become a filmmaker. I seriously contemplated dropping out of school altogether. But before deciding to leave, I wanted to engage in at least one positive action to help out my surrounding community. Otherwise, my last few months at school would have felt pointless. I remember sitting in the school library of Pace University, and searching “volunteer opportunities NYC” into google. It was then that I found Rescuing Leftover Cuisine’s website. I remember thinking that it was extremely easy to make an account and subsequently sign-up for a food rescue event. All I had to do was sign-in with Google, confirm my phone number, and then click the next available volunteer event on the calendar page. It was a Saturday night when I decided that I was going to do my first event. I met two volunteers in Downtown Brooklyn at a bakery, where we delivered a few dozen pounds of baked goods to a nearby homeless shelter. We started the event as complete strangers, but along the way we had some great conversations. It was a wonderful time. Afterwards, on the subway ride back to my dorm, I noticed a complete shift in my mental health. The rescue made me feel grounded and important for the first time in a long time. I decided to stay in school.
What’s your most memorable experience with RLC?
There are honestly way too many memorable experiences to count. Transporting food on-foot through the streets of New York City never gets boring, and each food rescue event presents its own unique challenges. Whether it’s fitting giant tin trays into a tiny metal cart, marching through the snow, or driving across boroughs with a trunk full of produce, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine never ceases to amaze me with how much fun it is. The experiences I have had have been so diverse, that I feel like I could write an entire book about it. One of my most memorable experiences was recently, after delivering food with my younger cousins to a non-profit called Project Rousseau. Normally an educational nonprofit which tutors ESL students, recently Project Rousseau has been supplying resources (including RLC donations) to recent arrivals to the U.S., during NYC’s ongoing migrant crisis. We delivered enough food to fill 2 entire refrigerators, and within 4 days, all of it was gone. We saw families including young children staying at shelters in the surrounding area, and we felt proud to have a small part in supporting them in their time of need.
What has been your proudest moment as a volunteer at RLC?
My proudest moment at RLC actually comes from how I’ve noticed my behavior change in my everyday life. In my neighborhood in Crown Heights, there are oftentimes people on my block who ask if I can buy them some food. Before RLC, I would have walked past these people, honestly because, simply put, it is much more convenient to shut down and ignore people in a city as large as ours. Today, I'm not embarrassed to talk to a stranger and help them out. My proudest moment is when a random stranger gave me a gigantic hug after I helped buy them some dinner.
How does one become a volunteer or an ambassador with RLC?
One simply has to create an account on our website, confirm all of their contact information, and sign up for an event. We try to make it as easy as possible for people. There is no long-term commitment, and we also have the option for you to become a Lead Rescuer, where you can sign up to lead your own events. After that, you have the option to become a Paid Rescuer, where you can receive up to $15 per rescue! I became the brand ambassador for RLC after I became a full-time staff member. I applied to a Rescuing Leftover Cuisine internship back in 2020, through a website called Handshake. I started out just taking photos for the organization, however, because of my passion and dedication (and because they liked the videos I was making), they decided to hire me part-time, and finally full-time.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced when it comes to food rescue?
One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced when it comes to food rescue is a lack of volunteers. There have been many times when we simply don’t have anyone sign up. When that happens, full-time staff members have to step in and lead food rescues, which can take them away from their position for hours at a time.
Other food rescuing organizations that inspire you?
Personally, I love this nonprofit called Collective Focus in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They are a mutual aid center which provides food, clothing, and creative community activities which are free for the public. I’ve seen countless families helped by them, and it is even more wonderful that we are able to provide them with donations even though they work with many organizations. Every week, there is a line around the block made up of people from the community who are looking for their resources. City Harvest, New York Cares, and St. John’s Bread & Life are a few others which inspire me.
What can we expect to see from RLC this year?
RLC has a goal of rescuing 4 million pounds of food this year alone. We’d also like to expand to other areas of the country, perhaps even California!
Words of advice that have been most valuable to you when it comes to food rescue.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is to pack extra reusable grocery bags, and to make sure that I have an RLC cart with me.
Sign up here and start your first rescue.