Loyola alumni Aidan Reilly ’17 and Mason O’Hanlon ’17 took on the challenge of restoring jobs and fighting hunger caused by COVID-19 by founding The Farmlink Project. Farmlink is a not-for-profit organization that acts as a middle man, connecting farms with produce surplus with food banks across the country.
Aidan Reilly, co-founder of Farmlink and current senior at Brown University, started the organization with a group of his university friends in hopes of ameliorating the increased crises of food waste and hunger. Farmlink has already made a significant impact, delivering almost 12 million pounds of food and upwards of nine million meals.
Reilly says, “The concept was simple: I volunteered at a food bank for the most of my time throughout middle and high school. I chose to volunteer at the food bank while doing the service work at Loyola. In particular, I heard that the Westside Food Bank’s need and demand was skyrocketing during the pandemic. They went from the normal 300 people a week to about 1500 people as a result of the economic hardships brought upon by the pandemic. At the same time, I was reading New York Times articles about farms having to dump milk and smash eggs because these commercial farmers had their orders cancelled.”
In a world where headlines are filled with news about COVID-19, college students across the nation are being sent home with cancelled internships and jobs. Reilly led the initiative to start the Farmlink project to accomplish some good during this lockdown, capitalizing on lost time away from his university.
Reilly recalls, “One day I was chatting on the phone with my friend James, and we were trying to figure out how we could be useful during this time when everyone was sent home and sitting around doing nothing. Seeing all these people hungry during this time made me think of that article about farmers literally having to throw out their food. Let’s see if we could at least connect one of them to the Westside Food Bank, some place that was local and personal to us. It started with just one.”
After struggling to reach out to acquire resources and many hang ups while cold calling farmers for produce surplus, someone finally picked up and wanted to help with the initiative. Reilly and his friends began to figure out how to arrange means of transporting this produce.
Reilly says, “In the beginning I would go to Penske and rent a 26 foot truck to drive by myself. We had a major breakthrough when we partnered with Uber Freight. We reached out to Uber, taking a total shot in the dark, and they said yes. They have helped us move 12 million pounds of food and have been a major partnership.”
Farmlink has gained a large following on social media and has gained national news coverage from major news outlets and publications such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC News, Fox News, CNBC, Variety, and the Today Show.
Reilly says, “[Social media and national media coverage] is everything for Farmlink. These problems of food waste in the United States and obviously hunger have always existed. The pandemic did exacerbate the issue, cause farmers to throw out more food and cause mass layoffs that lead to even more food insecure people; but the pandemic highlighted these issues. It suddenly brought these two issues to the forefront of American attention.”
O’Hanlon, senior at Babson College and fundraising and media coordinator, comments, “Social media makes it substantially easier to reach a greater, global audience. Through this platform we are able to make an impact not only in our backyard of LA but also in places such as the Navajo nation or Chicago during the riots. We are able to post at all hours of the day and virality plays a huge role in spreading our message.”
O’Hanlon and Reilly both pay homage to their time at Loyola and the values of service and leadership that they carry into Farmlink.
O’Hanlon says, “Being a man for and with others is definity something we have been taught and has been circulating in my brain since my time at Loyola. When this pandemic arose with a lot of bad, I wanted to find opportunities to do some good and give back. This is something that you do a lot at Loyola, whether that be your senior service project or other means of community service.”
To support, donate, or get involved with The Farmlink Project visit their website: thefarmlinkproject.org.