Non Profit Rescues Food To Feed The Hungry

Jan 26, 2018  | 6 min  | Ep4323

According to USDA, an estimated 1 of every 8 American households had a problem putting food on the table at some point in 2016.

This dry statistic has millions of hungry people on the other end. However, one agency has found a way to divert food from the landfill to a few of those who need it most.

Peter Tubbs has more in our Cover Story.

The last of 22 refrigerated delivery trucks are loaded during the pre-dawn hours in Long Island City, New York. Soon each truck will begin its route to a different section of the five boroughs of New York City, delivering produce and canned goods to 500 food banks and soup kitchens. 
One million pounds of donated and recovered food is delivered by City Harvest Food Rescue trucks each week, helping fill the plates of the 1.3 million New Yorkers who are food insecure. 
Jim Dunne, Director of Warehouse Operations, City Harvest: “Basically, we are kind of the middle man. You come into our fold, and what we do for you is that we tell us who you are, what you do, when you serve food and who you serve, and the constraints of your agency. We try to tailor our deliveries to meet those criteria. That’s how it works. Some of our agencies serve 1500 people in the course of a day.”
The City Harvest sits across the East River from Manhattan. When the group took over the home of a beer distributor in 2011,  the three door loading dock expanded City Harvest’s capacity and ability to accept temperature sensitive products.
Over 20 percent of households in New York City are defined as food insecure; meaning they either have fewer options than what is recommended by dieticians and the USDA, or a family that experienced skipped meals because they are unable to afford food. 
Jennifer McLean, Chief Operating Officer, City Harvest: “So our goal is to fill that gap for people. It’s an issue of people not having enough money to make ends meet, trying to get food on their table. So we specialize in fresh produce and perishable food, we want to get it out the door.” 
City Harvest was the first food recovery non-profit in the world when it began in 1982. Among those making donations are local restaurants, greengrocers and produce wholesalers. Unused produce is picked up by City Harvest, which plays matchmaker with a hunger service charity elsewhere in the city. The recovered food is then sorted and delivered to a client that is able to distribute to those who are trying to make ends meet. 
Michael Ottley, Director of Operations, Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen: “We have a basic menu that we work off of, but on any given day City Harvest can come up and drop off pounds of vegetables that they have rescued from the green market or they have gleaned from a farm in upstate New York. We have to change quickly and we have to react to that.” 
The Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen, housed in an Episcopalian church built in 1848, feeds over 1000 guests each day at lunch. The value of City Harvest’s donation to Holy Apostle is valued at $300,000.
What City Harvest believes is their secret weapon is a proprietary algorithm which calculates what food can be donated to which agency depending on warehouse inventory and what each agency is capable of distributing. Each truck is loaded for the day based on the sales orders generated by the algorithm. The computer program helps agencies across the city receive a more equitable share of what is donated than the randomness of manually creating a distribution list each day. 
Some donations of recovered food originate with box meal kit companies that find themselves with surplus ingredients. Truckloads of raw ingredients are donated and sent directly to larger food pantries without passing through the City Harvest warehouse. 
*A truckload of Canadian sweet corn is being unloaded one pallet at a time. The food distributor who originally purchased the sweet corn was unable get it to retail stores in Quebec before it ripened, everything was shipped to City Harvest, knowing it would be fed to those in need while still fresh. 
(nat break)
Timing produce delivery is a challenge for the grocery industry. Late harvests or shipping delays can result in surplus produce in supermarket warehouses, that are unlikely to be delivered and sold to consumers at their peak. The solution that makes more economic sense for most operations is to donate the surplus to organizations like City Harvest.
The agency also supports growers from outside the region directly. If producers can pack leftover produce into distribution ready containers, City Harvest can get the overruns to an end user, whether soup kitchen or family. 
Jennifer McLean, Chief Operating Officer, City Harvest: “Sometimes, if the farmer knew that if we send the truck, all you have to do is load it up, no worries we will pay the bill, that is music to their ears. If they knew that, once they hear that, they are loading up the truck and ready to go. (edit) So we pay the third party freight, and we help the farmer out with a little bit of a stipend.” 
The morning rush has slowed at the Sullivan Street Bakery in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. A City Harvest driver stops in to pick up a donation of baked goods that went unsold the previous day. 
Drew Daly, General Manager, Sullivan Street Bakery: “Obviously as a manager my job is to try and sell as much bread as I possibly can, but at the end of the day its really nice to know that City Harvest is going to collect our bread and it’s going to go on and find a second life. It definitely makes you feel better about having that waste at the end of the day, that it isn’t wasted.”
Fourteen million pounds of recovered food from places like Sullivan Street Bakery represent one third of City’s Harvests annual distribution volume. Each pound recovered is a pound bypassing a landfill, an already scarce commodity in the densely populated Northeast. Each pound also represents a meal for a person living in New York who is food insecure. 
Jim Dunne, Director of Warehouse Operations, City Harvest: “We’re doing things that genuinely enhance the quality of life for New Yorkers, and I get to see it. I really get to see it. You can’t put a price on that.” 
For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs.

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