Pinellas-based nonprofit 360 Eats continues to seek grants and funding needed to expand its innovative food delivery system that bridges the gap between hunger, food waste and sustainability in areas that need it the most – like South St. Petersburg.
While traveling through Australia in 2015, Cameron Macleish stumbled upon a large community of “dumpster divers” who sustained themselves with quality food a local grocery store discarded. Dismayed by the idea of large amounts of good food ending up in a landfill while so many people went to sleep hungry, Macleish decided to bring awareness to the issue.
In 2019, Macleish partnered with his mother, Ellen, a professional chef and fellow food waste activist, to create a YouTube cooking show titled Cooking with Trash. That project quickly gained traction and caught the attention of national media like NBC’s Today Show, and while it raised awareness of the problem, it did not offer a viable solution. In August 2019, Macleish founded 360 Eats to “rescue” food before it reaches local dumpsters, use it to prepare gourmet meals and deliver the food to those in the community that needs it the most.
“We’ve got a number of potential food donors on a waiting list because we’re just at our max capacity in terms of what we can process in terms of our size and our funding at this time,” he said. “Once we’re able to expand and scale-up, we can start to take on more partners – but we do about four different pickups each week.”
Macleish said 360 Eats saves between 800-1,000 pounds of food each week, but the lack of a proper transport van hampers efforts to increase mobile deliveries of prepared meals. The organization’s old transport van made its final delivery last year, and Macleish now depends on his Toyota Prius and the occasional volunteer’s vehicle to distribute food around the county. The lack of transportation drastically hinders the Palm Harbor-based organization’s ability to bring food to areas like South St. Petersburg, often referred to as a food and nutrition desert.
“There’s a lot of people who struggle to get to food pantries or areas that have affordable, nutritious food,” he said. “Going back to the food truck, that would amplify our mobility and allow us to get more food to more communities that might not be able to access those sources.”
The nonprofit recently started a catering service, which Macleish said created another revenue stream to help support daily operations. There are also some grants in the pipeline he expects to hear updates on soon, and he has also made the rounds at pitching events to raise funding and awareness. Macleish placed third at the Social Ventures Partners’ Tampa Bay Fast Pitch competition in November, and second at 100 Women Who Care’s event in early March.
In addition to a new transport van, Macleish also hopes to buy a food truck. He said 360 Eats participates in several community events, and a food truck would allow the organization to transport cooking equipment and other necessities throughout the county. It would also allow them to prepare hot, fresh meals at delivery sites rather than cold meals from a shared commercial kitchen in Oldsmar each morning.
A food truck would also alleviate the need to make several trips back to the facility between deliveries.
“We have to kind of battle it out with the other caterers for hours and time slots and things like that,” he said of the shared kitchen. “So I think having that kitchen on board the food truck would allow us to be a little more self-sustainable or flexible when we prepare meals.”
Macleish noted that all of 360 Eats’ offerings are chef-prepared, gourmet meals and would remain free from the food truck for anyone in need. He said the organization plans to take the food truck to various markets and events where customers would “pay what they feel.” He added that people typically give more than what he would charge under that system, and all revenue generated goes back to the mission of feeding the hungry and reducing food waste.
Macleish said the food truck would also provide a sense of dignity and fun for those in need of a nutritious meal.
“We’re trying to break the mold of the standard soup kitchen-quality food,” he said. “There’s less of that ‘we’re taking supplemental food because we’re food insecure’ vibe, and more of the ‘we’re just here to chill, eat and chat with the community,’ and there’s no stigma attached to it.”