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Food rescue program tips the scales at one million pounds!

Food Rescue - photo by The Leaven

(Overland Park, Kan.) — One million pounds. That’s $1.7 million worth of perishable food that area grocery stores have donated to Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas’ food rescue program, since its start nearly two years ago. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of 48 volunteer drivers who have logged over 2,000 hours to bring the food to those in need.

Originally, food rescue was a Harvesters’ program.  It served as an outlet for grocery stores to give highly valued food such as milk, produce and meat to the food bank for distribution to pantries, rather than throwing the items away. Used to picking up much larger pallets of food donations, Harvesters recognized the program might be a better fit for one of its agency partners.  After being approached, Catholic Charities took over a portion of the food rescue program in January 2015 with the help of warehouse manager Jeff Schmidt and long-time volunteer Jeff Bailey.

Together, they started with just three grocery stores. After learning all the food safety rules and procedures, the recruitment for volunteers began. They needed someone who was comfortable driving one of Catholic Charities’ box trucks two half-days a week, capable of lifting at least 50 pounds and reliable to make the weekly trips to the grocery stores.

Several retirees, like Gene Kalwei and Greg Jones, were already volunteering in Catholic Charities’ food pantries.  They saw firsthand the shortage of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and other perishables. “I could see how much we needed this food rescue program, so I was happy to volunteer. The grocery stores have been very receptive,” says Kalwei, who delivers to the Overland Park pantry.

Jones, who volunteers with the Kansas City, Kansas pantry, adds, “The great thing about it is you go to these same grocery stores week after week and start building a relationship. As a result, they begin giving you more and more food as they better understand the real impact they’re having.”

Today, food rescue drivers volunteer in Kansas City, Kansas; Leavenworth; Olathe; Overland Park; and Topeka.  Altogether, they pick up from 19 stores including Target, Walmart, HyVee, Price Chopper, Dillon’s, Natural Grocers and Sprouts. Volunteers work in pairs, loading the donated food from the markets and delivering it directly to their assigned food pantry. As the food is unloaded, it is weighed on the pantry’s scale and recorded.

Some days food rescue volunteers pick up 3,000 pounds of food or more.  “We love the variety of food that we now have access to, especially the fresh produce, that we weren’t able to offer families before,” says Olathe food rescue volunteer Rick Cekovsky.

Adds Bailey, “That food is helping those in our community who can’t afford to go to the grocery store themselves and buy nutritious items.  It makes you feel like you’re making a difference.”

Kim Brabits, Catholic Charities’ Vice President, Program Operations, personally recruited Bailey for the food rescue program. She attributes its success and continued growth to his ongoing involvement and crew of hardworking volunteers who share a real camaraderie.

“During this past fiscal year, Catholic Charities provided food assistance 248,480 times. That’s an annual increase of 30 percent. We count on volunteer-driven programs like our food rescue to help us continue to meet the growing needs of hungry families in our communities,” says Brabits.

Volunteers are needed for Catholic Charities’ food rescue program, especially in Kansas City, Kansas. To learn more, contact Michelle Carlstedt, Director of Volunteers, at [email protected] or call 913.433.2080.

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