Erin Stieglitz at Bagel Rescue’s first-ever fundraiser at the Marietta Wine Market in August
Erin Stieglitz at Bagel Rescue’s first-ever fundraiser at the Marietta Wine Market in August.

Erin Stieglitz may be the founder of Bagel Rescue, but the inspiration really came from her son. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Stieglitz left her career in communications to focus on her children. Because of COVID restrictions that year, the family’s annual holiday service project looked a little different. 

The family decided to shift their charity focus to first responders and ended up delivering breakfast to staff at Northside Hospital. Stieglitz’s first instinct was to pick up bulk bagels from the store, but her oldest son – who was 9 at the time – had a different idea.  

“Why would we get bulk bagels?” He asked his mom, confused as to why they wouldn’t go to their normal bagel shop, Goldbergs Fine Foods in Dunwoody, to pick up a fresh spread. He ended up calling the manager at Goldbergs, who said that while they couldn’t help with freshly made bagels, they’d be happy to give the family the leftover bagels from the day before. 

When Stieglitz showed up for the pick up, she was shocked to find hundreds of bagels waiting on her. 

“I mean, I had my back-up plan ready,” she said. “I was like – if we need to go buy more bagels, this is where I’m going to go, because I was thinking it wasn’t going to be that much!”

The family finished their service project, and that could have been the end of things. But the amount of bagels leftover at Goldbergs kept needling at Stieglitz. She got back in touch with the manager at Greenbergs and asked if she could continue to bring the leftover bagels to the hospital once a week. But still, the same question kept popping up in her mind – what were other bagel shops doing with their leftovers? 

“We discovered that all the bagel shops had waste, and none of them wanted to throw it away,” Stieglitz said. “They hated throwing it away. They just didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it.” 

From that simple discovery, the nonprofit Bagel Rescue was born. Stieglitz started reaching out to other bagel shops, and making connections between those shops and local feeding programs and food pantries. Three years later, Bagel Rescue works with 32 bagel shops and delivers to more than 100 feeding programs each week. The organization has over 100 volunteers and has rescued over a million bagels since its inception in an effort to provide hunger relief to those in need and to help lessen the negative effect that food waste has on the environment. 

“I just feel like I had to do something,” Stieglitz said. “We’re watching our community in this horrible situation, and for those of us who were fortunate enough to have enough to eat, and to have a home, what can we be doing? This felt like something we could do.” 

Bagel Rescue volunteers at a volunteer appreciation event.
Bagel Rescue volunteers at a volunteer appreciation event.

Steve Jones, who is retired, doesn’t remember how he learned about Bagel Rescue, but said it might have been from the weekly volunteering opportunities in one of Rough Draft Atlanta’s daily newsletters. He volunteers one day a week on Tuesday mornings, but has been thinking about adding another day to his rotation. 

“The first time I went to Bagelicious, I bet I got 200 bagels from them that afternoon,” Jones said. “They were throwing them in the dumpster! It’s such a waste. So that’s another thing that’s really good about this, just repurposing food that was going to get thrown away.” 

Lauren Bacon, the pantry manager at Suthers Center for Christian Outreach in Brookhaven, called Stieglitz and Bagel Rescue a real asset to their overall food supply system. Suthers gets most of their bread and pastry supply from the nonprofit food rescue Second Helpings Atlanta, but Bacon said Stieglitz is always willing to help them in a pinch. 

“Today, we didn’t get enough bread through our means, so I just contacted her and asked her, can you give me more? And she always gives us more,” Bacon said. “She’s an important part of our process now.”

Bagels have essentially taken over Stieglitz’s life at this point. Her car always smells like bagels, and her kids know that if they’re going anywhere, they’re probably going to make a pick up or a drop off on the way. But ever since her son’s first call to Goldbergs in 2020, Bagel Rescue has become somewhat of a family affair. Stieglitz said her son helps her make social media videos and helps her keep their website updated. 

“He stays involved,” she said. “He has great ideas, and he’s curious. This whole thing got started because he was curious.” 

As far as what’s next for Bagel Rescue, Stieglitz said she hopes the nonprofit is able to go beyond the bagel and tap into other semi-perishable food sources. She also hopes to extend the organization’s reach beyond Atlanta. 

“I feel like we have a very replicable model that would work in other cities,” she said. “It just takes some passionate people who are willing to do the research and make the connections.”

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.