We had the good fortune of connecting with Maya Terro and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maya, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I always get asked this question and pretty much every time I always say the things we love always find their way to us. There wasn’t what you might call a thought process. I just hapened to be in the right place at the right time in my life. That pretty much sums up my journey with FoodBlessed. When describing myself, I always say I’m a life-long activist. In spite of the many challenges Lebanon faces on a daily basis, I have taken it upon myself to lead by example and be the change I want to see happen around me. That being said, I think I’ve always been a food activist way before I knew that “food activism” was actually a thing. With FoodBlessed, I was able to turn my passion for food and my pursuit of empowering others into a humanitarian mission that “nourishes” individuals, communities, and public institutions to promote positive change in their country, one meal at a time. As for starting FoodBlessed, with huge amounts of food wastage globally and so many needy; it was only a matter of time before I felt the need to act. It all started in 2012 as part of CSR in Action competition organized by CSR Al Ahli. My team’s idea of finding a sustainable and viable solution for the twin problems of hunger and food waste ended up winning first place and that frankly was the sign my team and I probably needed to move forward with this project. I guess if we haven’t won back then, FoodBlessed might have never been born. Both of my teammates left after our first year of operation. I’ve been managing FoodBlessed on my own ever since! In 2014, I quit my job and dedicated myself fully to making FoodBlessed a reality. It wasn’t easy and at times I felt like giving up. While other NGOs survived on funds, FoodBlessed took pride in being the only community-based and volunteer-driven organization of its kind in Lebanon. So, while everyone thought something like FoodBlessed would never last. ‘You can’t run an NGO with no staff,’ they said. Not only did it survive; FoodBlessed thrived— 8 years later, a million and quarter meals later, and tens of thousands of rescued food later; I can safely say, we proved them wrong! FoodBlessed is a testament to how a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can put an end to hunger and food waste; one meal at a time. The past 8 years have been a huge learning experience. 1,350,000 meals and 25,000 food parcels later, not a day passes that I don’t learn something new or meet someone extraordinary, all thanks to what started as an idea and grew to become a community I am proud to have founded and to lead. As we say at FoodBlessed, once a Hunger Hero, always a Hunger Hero!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I learned from a very young age that the secret to self-fulfilment lies in being the change you want to see. We all have it in us to be a Changemaker. Sadly, most of us live our whole lives without ever realizing we had it in us. And so I’ve made it my lifelong mission to push people to realize their full potential. To do so meant that I first had to push myself to reach my full potential. That also meant I had to be true to who I am — I had to defy and exceed expectations; I had to be empowered in my goals; to be fearless in my decisions; and to be driven by my inner values and beliefs; every second of every day. Ever since I was little, I always felt driven to be the change I want to see in the world. Unfortunately, my wholehearted passion and perseverance would sometimes be mistaken for stubbornness or worse disrespect. Moreover, when you’re different there will be times when you feel undoubtedly alone. The more I followed the less-traveled path, the fewer people crossed my path. In every decision I made in my life; I always felt opposition, sometimes hate, and a lot of loneliness. ‘Are you in your right mind? You’ll never make it!’, they would say. Sometimes I just wanted to quit. It took me some time and not to mention a lot of reading and self-reflection, to finally realize that it’s better to be true to who you are and to what you believe in and be rejected for it than to be accepted at the expense of losing yourself. Grit, perseverance, and resilience is what separates the greats from the average. I guess what sets me apart is the way I chose to live my life, to be utterly and unapologetically myself and always, always treating others the way I would want to be treated, with absolute love and kindness. As such, it comes as no surprise that at FoodBlessed, we believe that Food is an Act of Love, for the Planet and its People. Food is a vital tool for supporting our local communities, bringing us together, and connecting us as human beings. That’s why in addition to feeding empty bellies (tackling hunger) and diverting food from landfills (tackling food waste and climate change); we also use food to build communities, tackle loneliness, and provide spaces for people from different backgrounds and walks of life to meet and to make friends. In the long term, through my work at FoodBlessed, I strive to create a cultural shift fueled by mindful consumption. It is only when people see and appreciate the value of food, will they stop wasting it and start sharing it. Spreading awareness is key here and I am already seeing the fruits of my hard work. I believe that by helping one person elevate another, FoodBlessed has paved the way towards elevating the whole of humanity. That’s why our volunteering program has not only paved the way to the enhancement of a community within a struggling third-world country by enabling people to regain compassion for their fellow humans and empowering them to bring positive change. On top of that, my work strives to rebuild the dignity of those in need and restoring their confidence in their community. Instead of lining up for food, like in most humanitarian relief settings, our guests are invited to sit down at our table and made to feel at home.More than a meal, what we offer to people in need, is a token of love and appreciation, Lastly, I want to share a story. When I was little, I always wanted to be a Doctor. I always wanted to help others and thought that by becoming a Dr., I can do just that. Instead of becoming a Doctor, I ended up being a Hunger Hero. It was all for the better. Over the years, I realized that my title in this world doesn’t matter as long as what I do improves the lives of those around me. At the end of the day, it’s not who you are (your title) or what you do (your job) but why you do it (your purpose) that makes all the difference. So while I didn’t end up in the medical profession; through FoodBlessed, I am helping others and saving lives on a daily basis by battling hunger and food waste.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
On a typical day of mine, I usually spend most of my time alternating between FoodBlessed’s warehouse where we pack and store food parcels; the community kitchen where we prepare wholesome delicious meals; and the office which I at least visit 4 times a week. In between these three locales, you can find me on my phone replying to endless emails and managing our social media outlets or driving FoodBlessed’s Kangoo truck picking up stuff from here, dropping stuff there, or transporting the volunteers. Most of the time, I’d be doing both things at the same time. I know it’s dangerous but multi-taskness is something I picked up early on in my life. Funny enough, my schedule makes it nearly impossible to plan things. I also work on weekends. So, when my best friends visit and they often do, I usually barely have time to meet up with them and so I do the natural thing of inviting them to volunteer with me for a day or two. That way we can spend some quality time together and I get to finish my errands for the day!
After a long day, I usually end up hanging out at my boyfriend’s place. My boyfriend is a superb cook and so when I want to invite someone over, he always cooks us a grande feast. His specialty dishes range from his signature salmon dish to traditional Lebanese dishes like Mloukheyyeh. Oh, and he makes the best pasta Bolognese you will ever taste! I enjoy watching series together. Who’s that girl, Modern family, the blacklist, and the Vikings are amongst my top four. Boardgames are always a big hit when we invite people over. ‘Catan’ and ’30 seconds’ and the occasional ‘snakes and ladders’ are my favs!
Sometimess when we’re both too lazy, we usually order in. Our favorite places to order from, are ‘The bbq house’- their specialty burgers are to die for. A Tawouk sandwich or a burger from ‘Malak Al Tawouk’ is never a wrong choice. When we are craving pizza , it’s ‘Pizzanini’. We also love the crispy chicken burger from ‘ChicksALot’. Yum!
In Lebanon, Mankousheh is a staple breakfast. I usually order mine from “Alaa el dien bakery’. I usually order the ‘cheese-zaatar’ combo. You’ll definitely be sharing one with me if we’re hanging out!
Now that I’ve shared my best spots for food, let’s talk about another thing that Lebanon is known for — nature! I’m a huge nature lover and so when I have the time or sometimes I actually make the time to take myself/ my best friends and my dog Puffly to Bekaa. Taanayel and Ammiq are amongst my favorite spots there, especially in autumn. I also love Laqlouq in the fall season. What else? Whenever I finish from Bekaa, I head to my favorite shawarma place in Aley on my way back to beirut. It’s called “green corner’. Their Shwarma will not disappoint. The chicken shawarma is my pick, but the meat one is as good. Had to talk about food again hihi.
For hiking and trekking which I also enjoy doing throughout the year, I suggest the ‘Chouf Biosphere reserve’. It’s one of my favorites hiking spots especially in winter when it’s covered in snow. Snowshoeing there is a real treat if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s also a lovely place not very far from the reserve called ‘Cezar’s farm and guesthouse’ that’s worth a visit if you plan to stay the night or have a quick delicious bite before heading back to Beirut!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I always say that on a personal level, my role model has always been, believe it or not, Mulan the Disney character. Over the years. the change I became the change I always wanted to see. When it comes to FoodBlessed, I believe that the volunteers aka our “Hunger Heroes” are at the heart of who we are and what we do. FoodBlessed and I owe our achievements and success to their continuous support and hard work, their unwavering love, their commitment and dedication, and for simply being above and beyond and exceeding all expectations! Thank you for reviving our belief in humanity. You rock! That said, I also want to send a hearty shoutout to every single person who supported us by donating to our cause. As a community-based and volunteer-driven nonprofit, every little bit helps. Your contributions, no matter how small or big, have made all the difference to the work we do at FoodBlessed.
FoodBlessed Also depending on what photos you end up choosing, I can give you name of photographer