Woman smiles and waves as she drops bag into composting machine
Photo courtesy of 4MyCity's Instagram page.

Christopher Dipnarine had already established himself as a ground-up financial success story by the time he stopped to render first aid to a dying man in the streets of Baltimore.

It was 2018, and Mike Vause was an unhoused man who had been the victim of a hit-and-run incident. Dipnarine was the only person who helped, as passers-by actively refused to intervene. “No one cared,” reads the 4MyCity website. “’It’s just another homeless person.’ ‘I don’t want to touch him.’ ‘I don’t want to be involved,’ were some of the comments thrown my way,” he wrote in an Instagram post detailing the incident.

Dipnarine stayed with Vause until paramedics arrived, and he visited the hospital the next morning to check on him. Vause had passed away from his injuries. “It doesn’t hurt your ego to show someone you care, we never know what someone is going through in life or what circumstances dictate how they came to there [sic] present state. Show respect for humanity, care, give, support, love, share and most importantly live…because at the end of the day you never know when your time will be up,” wrote Dipnarine in the post.

Vause’s death was a wakeup call for Dipnarine. He decided to leave the business operations world to start 4MyCity, a nonprofit focused on the problems of food waste and food insecurity, which he says are deeply intertwined.

“When systems are broken, I believe in fixing them,” Dipnarine told Baltimore Fishbowl. “Food waste is a broken system. Why separate food waste, hunger, composting?”

The nonprofit “rescues” food that would otherwise be thrown away by their distribution partners, like grocery retailers, and redistributes it to hungry people through their “Food Rescue to Go” program. They encourage the recipients to bring back their food scraps for composting, which 4MyCity will turn into composted soil in 24 hours using aerobic digester machines. The Organic Materials Review Institute-certified soil is free to all city residents.

Dipnarine said his own childhood experiences encouraged him to find solutions to food insecurity and waste.

“I grew up food insecure,” he said. “I moved from Trinidad to Baltimore. Druid Hill, Park Heights, I made it out of the city, and now I’m choosing to give back into it. I lost the concept of who I was growing up. I wanted to launch an organization focused on helping people. I could relate to food insecurity. I could relate to that message because I’ve been there.”

In addition to vegetables and fruits, 4MyCity has also recently begun accepting meat scraps — one of the items that Baltimore City’s composting program will not take.

Soon, 4MyCity will also begin accepting yard trimmings.

Because of the recent addition of meat to the nonprofit’s accepted food scraps for composting, Dipnarine said they are being careful to test the newly composted soil for pathogens and won’t send that soil back into homes until they have six months of consistent test results showing it is safe for household use. He is optimistic about the results so far and hopes that in January or February data will confirm its safety for redistribution.

They nonprofit is moving into a new, 100% zero-waste facility in West Baltimore in September, which will house all their programs. They will have two machines that will give them the capacity to compost nearly 12,000 pounds of material per day.

4MyCity launched the free composting program in April 2023. Since the launch, they have composted more than 150,000 pounds of residential food waste. “Everyone in the Food Rescue to Go program is being transitioned into the compost program,” Dipnarine said. They come into the warehouse to pick up their food and they drop off their food scraps for composting at the same time.

The program is completely free for Baltimore City residents, and others within a ten-mile radius of their warehouse, so Dipnarine says even some county residents are eligible. The program has its own bags for composting, which they will deliver to program participants for free when they sign up.

Ideally, though, he hopes people will come into the facility to pick up their food and drop off their scraps. He wants participants to meet and talk with the volunteers, to see the operations, and to have a chance to learn about the processes and strengthen community bonds. The program is designed to make composting available to low-income residents. Composted soil also goes to a partner farm with which 4MyCity is connected.

Ever logistically minded, Dipnarine has incorporated a jobs program into 4MyCity as well. If residents have a car, they can work as a driver for the organization, based on the Door Dash model. Residents can earn money by picking up and dropping off bags of food scraps for their neighbors and around the city. They get paid per bag they bring in, so they can earn income as well. There’s also a jobs and mentoring program, which pays participants for their time (per hour) in the program.

Overall, 4MyCity says it has rescued and redistributed more than 205 million pounds of food and diverted more than 240 million pounds of organic waste from landfills. Learn more about their programs on their website or Instagram page.

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