Nourish Now, a non-profit in Maryland, collects unused food from restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels, and distributes it to the hungry.

This work can be especially challenging, not only because of the rules that regulate redistributing food, but also because it can be hard to get businesses to participate. (Owners may be afraid of liability.) Nourish Now, however, has figured it out and has a system in place that delivers food to over 200 families in the DC area each month.

According to Nourish Now founder Brett Meyers, the reason Nourish Now is able to help people is because it's a non-profit organization. In other words, they’re not a bunch of individuals running around collecting days-old bread and melty ice cream. This is a government-recognized organization. And the food is still good, quality food.

Here's how it works: At the end of each day, Nourish Now shows up with vans and volunteers to pick up any unused food from companies, like Panera Bread. "We hate seeing products go to waste," says Jenny Hurley, spokesperson for Panera restaurants in Maryland. Since Panera doesn’t use any preservatives, they only serve food that is made the same day. Instead of throwing perfectly good food out, Panera donates it to Nourish Now and other similar groups.

I interviewed Meyers to ask him just how he does it, and why:

Cooking Light: What exactly do you do, and how does it work?Brett Meyers: We collect unused fresh food from an array of food providers and donate that food to over 200 families and 25 social service agencies per month. We also collect healthy snacks and donate them to over 600 at-risk youth at local public schools for after-school programs and to take home for the weekends.

CL: What are some of the challenges you face?Brett: Some business owners don’t want to deal with [helping] because they’re worried about liability. We explain that the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act passed by congress in 1996 takes away the liability issue when donating food to a 501c3 Non-Profit like Nourish Now.

CL: How are you funded?Brett: We're new; we have been around for two years. The funding is getting there. We have been awarded some grants. For example, Beaulieu Vineyards named me their 2012 National Hunger Hero, and Nourish Now received a $10,000 grant.

CL: That must mean you have a lot of volunteers?Brett: We have three people on staff, three interns, and about 100 volunteers. The community has helped a lot.

CL: That sounds complicated. Do you have a schedule in place?Brett: We have a whole map system and schedule set up. It might say “Jane Smith once a week goes to Maple Street.”

CL: Why go through all this trouble?Brett: I really care about people in general. I don’t think anyone should be struggling with hunger anywhere in the world, especially in America, where we have so much unused food. I used to work in the food industry, and I saw so much unused fresh food thrown in the trash every day. In the United States, we waste about 96 billion pounds of food each year, while a large amount of that food is still fresh and can be donated to those in need.

CL: Any advice to those wanting to start something similar?Brett: Learn everything you can about non-profts, get your food handlers license, and learn about temperature safety. I think people will want to help; you just have to call them and ask.

To learn more about non-profit food collection businesses or how to start your own, check out the USDA's food recovery webpage. To get involved with Nourish Now, contact or call 301-330-0222.

Follow Nourish Now on Twitter @NourishNow and Facebook.