What do you do when someone drops 5,000 pounds of potatoes at your door? It sounds like the setup for a corny joke, but that’s exactly what recently happened to LocalShare, the food rescue project of the nonprofit Foodshed Alliance. And when it did, they knew exactly what to do: A team of volunteers, headed up by Kate Munning, leaped into action, distributing the 2.5 tons of spuds to nearby food pantries, who in turn gave them to their appreciative customers.
On March 28, LocalShare was contacted by Vibra Screw, a Totowa-based dry materials handling company. They had two 2,500-pound pallets of first-quality Yukon Gold potatoes sent to them for testing a new conveyor. Only a fraction of the potatoes were used for the test, and ordinarily the rest would be slated for the dumpster. Evan Munning, an engineer at Vibra Screw, was appalled at the idea of all that waste. He was familiar with LocalShare’s work distributing local produce to people in need, so he called us up and asked if we would be able to use all those potatoes. We enthusiastically said yes, and the wheels immediately went into motion—calling volunteers, contacting food pantries, arranging transportation, and packaging the produce into more manageable weights.
Over the next few weeks, LocalShare was able to deliver 5,000 pounds of potatoes to a number of food pantries in Sussex, Warren, and Morris counties:
- The Lord’s Pantry at Trinity Church, Hackettstown
- Long Valley Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church
- Washington Food Pantry (Warren)
- Knowlton Methodist Church
- Evangelical Free Church of Blairstown
- First Presbyterian Church of Blairstown
- Coupons for the Community, Sparta
The aid organizations greatly appreciated the fresh produce, since the bulk of donations to pantries are shelf-stable and convenience foods, which are important staples for stressed-out, hungry people, but not as nutritious as fresh vegetables. Sandy Pattky is manager of The Lord’s Pantry, which initially accepted 800 pounds of potatoes and got rid of them so fast that they asked for another 400 pounds. She was quick to gush, “Thank you so much for the work that you do. The potatoes were such a hit!”
Every step of the way, people enjoyed the opportunity to help in this effort. Eugene Wahl, senior president at Vibra Screw, isn’t in the charity business, but he finds his company’s role in all this a satisfying one: “It’s exciting to make contributions and to see how, when we all work together, we truly can make a difference, as large or as small as it may be.” And special thanks to Evan Munning, both for the tip-off and for helping to transport that huge quantity of potatoes from Totowa to northwest Jersey.
The potato distribution represents the first undertaking of 2014. Soon LocalShare will start rescuing food from local farmers who have more green beans than they can harvest, or peppers that aren’t perfect for the farmers’ market. Some of our partners are complementing the vegetable donations with education on how to cook vegetables on a budget and community garden tours. The GIFT (Give It Fresh Today) program, allowing vendors and customers to donate farmers’ market offerings on-site, will be picking up where it left off last fall. The volunteer base continues to grow, as does our service radius.
LocalShare’s mission is to rescue healthy local food, using what cannot be sold at market, getting it to people in need, teaching them how to cook and preserve it, and creating community through “Pay-What-You-Can” dinners. LocalShare is a project of the Foodshed Alliance, a grassroots, 501(c)(3) non-profit devoted to promoting locally grown food and farming. Foodshed works with farmers, community members, and agricultural leaders to develop projects that foster the growth of a sustainable local food system. We focus on raising public awareness about the value of local foods and on helping farmers find more profitable and sustainable ways to grow and market.