Every Friday morning at 9, Electra Evans prepares to receive bagels at the Greater Bethel AME Church Food Pantry in south Atlanta. They’ll come by the dozens, an assortment of flavors all piled together in a large bag.
And, boy, do they smell good, says Evans. About a year ago, the pantry manager was seeking more food sources for her clients and couldn’t believe her good luck when she stumbled upon Bagel Rescue on a Facebook post. The nonprofit wanted to find homes for day-old bagels donated from some of metro Atlanta’s best bagel shops.
“We serve a very underserved population in south Atlanta, and we would have never thought about bagels,” said Evans, who divides them into gallon bags for her clients. “Bagel Rescue has come to our rescue.”
Delivering that big bag of bagels is Erin Stieglitz, who started Bagel Rescue two years ago.
It began as a holiday family service project during the pandemic. The Stieglitz family of Brookhaven wanted to bring a breakfast of bagels and spreads to the staff at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. But the oldest son, age nine at the time, didn’t want to give out just any ol’ bagels. He wanted the good stuff.
Erin Stieglitz remembered her son asking, “Mom, why would we get bagels from the grocery store when we love bagels from the deli down the street?”
When she explained that it wasn’t cost-effective, her son thought they should at least ask if the deli would help. He called Goldbergs Fine Foods in Dunwoody, and they were happy to donate.
The Stieglitzs picked up a bag with hundreds of bagels several weeks later and delivered them to the hospital. Afterward, Erin Stieglitz picked up leftover Goldberg’s bagels weekly and continued giving them to the hospital.
She soon learned that every bagel shop had leftovers, and she and her friend Amy Wilensky started thinking of ways they could use bagels to relieve hunger.
“For a while, we were two moms in our mom-mobiles driving around picking up bagels and trying to find places to take them,” Stieglitz said.
Bagel Rescue now partners with 27 bagel shops and 80-plus agencies with feeding programs. More than 60 volunteers pick up bagels by the hundreds and deliver them to homeless shelters, senior centers, addiction recovery houses, and into the hands of street outreach programs and others.
“This is good quality food that we’re able to rescue from the landfills and instead use it to fill bellies that are hungry and need food,” Stieglitz said.
She said bagel shops want to give away the items they can’t use the next day.
“Goldbergs has always been passionate about preventing food waste,” said Jennifer Johnson, director of restaurant operations. “And Erin is so dedicated to the cause. Anytime I have any leftovers that I can’t use the next day, I will text her, and she will come and pick them up, and then it goes out into the community.”
Johnson said helping with food hunger is dear to her heart because she’s been through hard times and knows what it’s like to deny herself food to feed her kids.
“We need more people like Erin in the community and more awareness that there are people in need,” Johnson said.
Bagel Rescue also gives people an opportunity to help their community. Pickup is in the early afternoons as restaurants close, and deliveries are within a 10-mile radius. The organization gets a lot of help from retirees and virtual workers, but some volunteers leave their offices to pick up and deliver bagels. Bagel Rescue operates seven days a week and expects a level of commitment from volunteers. Some are on standby to fill in when needed.
Bagels usually come in a bag, all flavors together, in large amounts, and that’s how they’re delivered. However, a few volunteers have begun sorting and repackaging for feeding centers.
Eric Smith and Mark Boehm repackage bagels and deliver them to a food pantry at Neighborhoods Cooperative Ministries in Norcross. Smith is a caregiver and job coach for Boehm, 42, who has Down syndrome. The project takes about four hours every Monday; they’ve been at it for almost a year.
Usually, they bag between 500 and 800 bagels in one day. Boehm said he enjoys the social part of it best. It’s fun, and he meets many friendly people at the food pantry.
Smith said he appreciates the mission of Bagel Rescue. “What (Stieglitz) is doing for the community is just so great, so we love supporting her and what she’s built.”
In addition to handling all the logistics, Stieglitz takes 25-30% of the routes herself. She tackles the food desert areas of downtown and midtown, collecting bagels the day before and storing them in a large chest freezer at her house. She’ll make eight or nine stops to deliver in areas with a shortage of bagel shops nearby.
Some partners will receive six or seven huge bags of bagels, and other pantries outside of metro Atlanta will pick them up.
“I have had someone from Athens pick up bagels,” Stieglitz said. “If they need food, I want to be a resource for them.”
How to help: apply to volunteer or donate at bagelrescue.com/contact.
Or email BagelRescueTeam@gmail.com