Some Tomatoes Would Be Nice: Second Harvest’s Store Donation Program Moves Fresh Food Fast

by | Aug 10, 2018 | #feedinghealth | 0 comments

Gaynelle Williamson is singing while she puts out bunches of cilantro and kale on a long table, seemingly to herself but her song is spilling out through the church.

Old folding tables have been placed along each wall of the room and they are being piled high with fresh food: loose beets, bags of carrots, greens, onions, small plastic containers of olives, dinner rolls, a couple melons. More boxes of food are brought in to be unloaded. Loaves of bread, avocados, bags of grapes, squash. A man stands near the door breaking down cardboard to be recycled.

The volunteers here at Melfield United Church of Christ in Haw River have this routine down to a science. They are efficient: After all, they do this three times a week, serving over 270 people every month through their fresh grocery distribution days. They work quickly and quietly, talking amongst themselves, laughing, helping each other carry the heavy boxes, all led by Gaynelle’s song.

Soon these tables will have a steady flow of people moving past them, as pantry guests select what foods they want and need.

“The seniors, especially those who are diabetic, are very appreciative of these vegetables. Most of them know they are supposed to be eating them daily, but really can’t afford them,” explains Polly Tinnin, who has been volunteering with the pantry since 1999 and is the de facto leader of group. There are about 15 volunteers from the church that help make this important program happen.

The fresh food comes to Melfield from Second Harvest’s Store Donation Program. Polly and her team have been matched through the program to two local stores—a CVS and a Food Lion, both in Haw River—to pick up their unsold perishable foods and quickly get them back out to local communities.

“The Store Donations Program rescues close-dated product that would otherwise be discarded,” explains food banker Jan Bauer, who oversees the program. “The program is a win-win situation for both the stores and our partner agencies. It reduces the amount of waste, reduces the frequency/cost of emptying the dumpster, and it impacts the local community in an incredibly positive way.”

Currently, Second Harvest has been able to match 239 stores throughout our 18 county service area with 157 partner agencies in our network. While Second Harvest has a fleet of semi trucks that are daily recovering food from manufacturers, grocers, and even farmers from across Northwest North Carolina to bring back to our central warehouses in Winston-Salem, this program allows for smaller loads of fresh food to be matched directly with our partners and moved quickly and efficiently.

The grocery distribution at Melfield makes perfect use of the Second Harvest’s Store Donations Program. Gaynelle and the other volunteers are carefully unloading a box of tomatoes. “They are perfectly good,” remarks one volunteer, holding up a cluster of tomatoes still clinging to the vine. “They probably need to get into someone’s refrigerator tonight though, and be eaten within a day or two. But they are good and juicy and filled with vitamins.”

Polly describes one family that comes to their grocery distribution regularly. “There are ten people in the household–mostly children–and I believe the father is sick,” she explains. “The mother comes and gets as many vegetables and fruits as possible. The mother tells us the vegetables are very helpful.”

A woman, probably in her 50’s, comes in the side door. Her hand is hovering near, but not on, the elbow of an older woman who is very determined to move on her own. These women are neighbors, and the younger woman brings the older woman every week to the grocery distribution, where they both get a bag of fresh foods.

We learn that the older neighbor is 88 years old—she proudly shares that she has 19 great grandchildren. Her family lives all over the country now, but she remains here in Alamance County, where she was born and raised. “I raised my kids and my grandkids and I worked in a museum in Washington DC for 26 years,” she explains. “But today, I just need a little help. Some tomatoes would be really nice.”

Today, Polly, Gaynelle and the others can make that very simple wish come true.

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