Working Together to Get More Fresh Food to Our Neighbors
On a recent morning at the Pierce County Food Pantry in Ellsworth, Wisconsin, a group of volunteers, employees, board members and University of Wisconsin Extension members are celebrating. The group gathers around a cooler filled with fresh produce, eyes gleaming, and smiles for a photo. The cooler is gleaming too. Because it’s brand new — one of 56 coolers that were sourced and distributed by Second Harvest Heartland to help 27 food shelves and meal programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin provide more fresh produce to their communities.
Jennie Meinz is Agency Relations Manager for Second Harvest Heartland. “Agencies increasingly want to provide perishable, often healthier, food and they need more cooler space to do it,” she said. “Dairy, eggs and protein are the items most-requested by food shelf visitors, and organizations need infrastructure to handle this product.”
Another agency that received a cooler, the CROSS Center of Benton County, Minn., said the donation was wonderful — and necessary.
“The cooler is filled every day with fresh produce for our customers to enjoy — we had to make the door to our food room wider to accommodate it,” said Carole Mersinger, food shelf coordinator. “It’s so wonderful and convenient for our customers to be able to shop for produce here.
Local food shelves and meal program partners weren’t the only ones to receive a new cooler. Second Harvest Heartland recently purchased a cooler for our new Brooklyn Park facility to take in and distribute more fresh food. Larger coolers with better temperature control extend the life of food donated to Second Harvest Heartland by retail outlets and local farmers and make it possible for us to accept more food items.
At more than 6,000 square feet, the cooler can hold 300 pallets of food. The full cooler, which will be built during Phase 2 of our expansion, will be 13,000 to 16,000 square feet. The cooler at our Maplewood facility, by comparison, is 4,000 square feet — a size that held us back from taking in more perishable food.
“We literally couldn’t fit more produce!” said Theresa McCormick, produce strategy manager. “We haven’t been able to add new food banks [to the Midwest Region Produce Cooperative, which serves seven states], so this is huge progress for us.”
Now that we have more temperature-controlled storage, McCormick said, we can accept truckloads of a single variety (say, apples) and repackage that into multiple pallets of different varieties. One truck can deliver multiple varieties to the other food banks in nearby states.
“They’re essentially getting a grocery store’s produce department in one delivery,” McCormick said.
Data that shows that the higher the variety of produce, the faster it gets distributed from the food shelf to families.
“We know the need for protein, like dairy and lean deli meat, and for fresh produce, is high,” says Chief Operating and Program Officer, Thierry Ibri. “Those foods also require specific handling for food safety. Being able to build this new cooler now, with more space to come, plus a new freezer, means we can meet demand both from suppliers and from clients.”
The coolers were provided by Hill Phoenix, which donated their time, labor and parts to refurbish the coolers. Another organization, Custom Innovation, a refrigeration broker, made the connection between Second Harvest Heartland and the donor.