What Does It Mean to Rescue Food?

Food Rescue Driver Header

August 29, 2016 By: JT Pinther Category: SHH News

This is a post by our Communications Coordinator, Jens Pinther. He had the opportunity to go for a ride-along with a Food Rescue driver and wanted to share the experience.

With a very small and deliberate bump, Steve backed his refrigerated truck against the distribution center of a grocery store. It was way earlier than anyone should ever be awake. But Steve had a smile on his face. He turned off the ignition and invited me to join him inside the skeleton of the store.

“Have anything for me today?” Steve asked a friendly (but sleepy) employee.

And they did: six or seven boxes of baked goods, maybe 300 pounds of fresh produce. Steve loaded the food in the back of his truck, thanking the store employees for their help.

At the next stop, the loading docks were already occupied by other trucks, and Steve had to wait a few minutes before backing into a spot. “The bread guy usually doesn’t take too long,” Steve said.

While most of the drivers ahead of him were working on emptying their trucks throughout the day, Steve was filling his.

It’s Steve’s role along with a fleet of others at Second Harvest Heartland to rescue food that would otherwise not be used. Often foods that come in boxes with bent corners won’t get purchased because they don’t appear perfect. Vegetables that aren’t the perfect shape but are still great produce are frequently the last to be picked up off the shelf. The food is good, but it sometimes goes to waste. For several years, Second Harvest Heartland has recognized this problem, and has worked with retail partners to feed hungry neighbors with rescued food.

One Food Rescue driver alone can pick up and deliver anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 pounds of food on a single day, depending on the route. In total, the Food Rescue program makes up nearly 40 percent of the food Second Harvest Heartland distributes every year.

“We all have our days when we’d rather stay at home,” Steve said. “But if I don’t come in to work, hundreds of families could get turned away for a meal at their neighborhood church. This is what gets me out of bed every day.” He said the only reason he has called in since being a truck driver is because he’s a new father.

Food Rescue Driver smiling steve

There are a lot of truck drivers in the work force, but Steve sees himself having a unique role. Rescuing food is different.

At the end of the route for the day, Steve pulled up to a church in Fridley. He pulled the parking brake and said to me, “These people are amazing. I can’t talk about them without getting tears in my eyes.”

He got out of his truck and was greeted by several people who volunteered at the church, excited to see what was rescued for the day. Then each box, one by one, was unloaded and sent into a church basement window by a small conveyor belt, to be unpacked and prepared into community meals.

After every pound of food collected throughout the day was unloaded, Steve drove back to Second Harvest Heartland with an empty truck. On some routes, if there are more stops after the food shelf, drivers will take the extra food back to the Second Harvest Heartland warehouse. But Steve prefers when he comes ‘home’ empty handed. Although Second Harvest Heartland has consistently high standards for all distributed food, even 12 hours can make a difference when it comes to fresh produce. “It’s just that much fresher,” Steve said. It’s no small amount, either. Approximately 53 percent of the food distributed last year was fresh.

Plus, Steve said, getting as much food to as many people who need it as efficiently as possible is always a good thing.

If your organization or company has food that needs rescuing, you can tell us about it here. This program feeds millions of people in Minnesota and western Wisconsin each year. With your support, this program can be even better. Donate today.

Food Rescue Driver closing door


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