Behind the Pallets: From the Warehouse to a Family’s House

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March 2, 2018 By: JT Pinther Category: SHH News

Behind every plate of food we eat is a story.

Much of that story is told not in retail stores, restaurants or kitchens at home. Long before a plate is set in front of us, that food is safely stored, cared for and transported in spaces that aren’t particularly glorified—a warehouse, for instance.

Omar Jarrar manages Second Harvest Heartland’s Distribution Center and food bank operations. He spends most his day in a large, gray box with rows and rows of foods. Further down the warehouse is a larger-than-life freezer and a refrigerator to store our fresh produce, dairy, meat and other items. This gray box is a hub for thousands of families to get the food they need.

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One of the key differences between a food bank and a food shelf is that food banks help supply and support the amazing, essential work food shelves are doing. Second Harvest Heartland collects, stores and distributes mass quantities of donated and purchased foods, and our food shelf, food pantry and meal program partners can order items their specific communities need.

Other than food safety, the most important part of Omar’s team’s job is accuracy. He explained accuracy in the Distribution Center this way: If you as a consumer order ten items from a store online, but you only get eight, those missing items are dominant in your mind.

But the difference between online shopping and ordering from a food bank is the impact on people’s lives. “It’s not a matter of ‘I didn’t get my Xbox,’” Omar said. “We’re talking about a meal. That is important. There’s a family who needs that, and we’re all connected. If I don’t do my job properly, everybody is affected.”

Omar was raised understanding that helping others is his purpose. When he was young, he helped in refugee camps to assist people who had been displaced from their homes and often lost everything they had. Omar continued as he got older in his career helping communities with scarce resources around the world. But when he and his wife decided to have kids, Sara said, “That’s enough traveling!”

They moved back to Minnesota, where his Sara’s family lives. Omar found himself living in a country and state of true abundance, unlike the places around the world he had worked before. “We’re in the wealthiest country of the world, and yet we still have an issue with hunger,” Omar said. “I was looking to see who was helping with that. Second Harvest Heartland was making a big impact and had a great reputation.” Omar has now been working at Second Harvest Heartland for three years.

At any given time, there are 4 to 6 million pounds of food in our Distribution Center. It’s a hard number to wrap your head around, but a football field is 57,600 sq. ft. and our Maplewood warehouse is 68,500 sq. ft.! It’s a big space, but we need even more in the years to come to meet the need of our 59-county services area. Even with such a large operation, our Maplewood warehouse scored an impressive 950/1000, the very top percentile score, on our annual AIB safety audit last year. “We’re looking forward to next year to get at least 985!” Omar said.

Numbers aside, it means everything that all this food on each of these warehouse racks, in off-site storage trailers, on each of these pallets, in each box or bag, someone who is struggling to get a meal is eating it and going to bed tonight more nourished and more able to thrive.

“On those bad days you always go home and still know you made a positive impact,” Omar said. “That is a feeling you can’t put a money value next to.”


We need your help to keep getting food to families right here in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Get involved today and feel the positive impact you’re making for someone close to home.


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