The Ocean Shores Food Bank is one of four groups on Grays Harbor County that have started receiving help from the Aberdeen Safeway store with ongoing efforts to feed hungry Harborites through a program administered by Seattle-based nonprofit Food Lifeline.
Since mid-September, local volunteers have driven to Safeway each Saturday morning to pick up 300 to 400 pounds of frozen meat and fresh produce, dairy and bakery items that are “near date” or have minor handling damage or blemishes, said Food Bank Executive Director Sandy Harley. The program is tightly regulated and volunteers must be certified by Food Lifeline.
Morgan Stine, grocery rescue program manager for Food Lifeline, said the program dates back to 2002 and is based on the fact that “no matter how efficient they are, grocery stores always have quality, but unsellable, food left over at the end of the day.” Working with a single QFC store in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline, Food Lifeline developed a distribution model and requirements to ensure food safety. The program was adopted by all 101 QFC stores and has grown to include major retailers Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart. Safeway joined the effort two years ago, dubbing the program, “Fresh Rescue.” Stine said Food Lineline was asked to help implement the concept at all 123 Safeway stores in Western Washington, and the result has diverted more than 8 million pounds of food from their waste and recycling streams to the tables of Washingtonians in need. The program has grown from 16 stores in 2002, to 368 stores in 17 counties.
“Morgan did a great job” acquainting her staff with the program, said Patti Kennedy, Ocean Shores resident and Aberdeen Safeway manager. He also vetted and trained the leaders and volunteers of the four participating non-profits, Adventist Community Services of Grays Harbor, the Hoquiam Food Bank, the Salvation Army of Grays Harbor and Ocean Shores Food Bank..
To support the effort, Safeway employees daily sort and store perishable products for the four local food agencies.
“The bottom line is that we’re able to help people in our own communities, in our own back yard. It’s a very sad statistic that, in Washington state, one in five children go hungry every day,” Kennedy said. “It’s very sad, but we can definitely help, and that’s very exciting.”
She also mentioned the store’s Hunger Bag program that runs from the first of November through Christmas and serves as a way for Safeway customers to donate food to local food banks.
That program is prominently displayed in the store. Harley explained that the Ocean Shores Food Bank has been receiving bread from Safeway for years and was already a “member agency” working with other Food Lifeline efforts and endeavors. She said former Food Bank executive director Leon Brauner worked with Stine and let him know they would be interested in participating in Fresh Rescue. When the Aberdeen store was added to the program, OSFB was invited to apply.
Fifteen of the Food Bank’s nearly 60 volunteers have been certified in the program, but she said “we could actually use more drivers with trucks or vans.”
Harley said the program’s biggest impact has been that “we’re able to give more produce to our guests, and they really love that!” And, she noted, that supports her agency’s healthy nutrition goals, “especially in the winter.”
Others in the area also benefit because the Ocean Shores Food Bank works to “share the wealth” rather than let perishables go to waste.
“Because we only have distribution on the first and third Thursdays,” from their location at 848 Anchor Ave. NW, “sometimes when we pick up produce on a Saturday, it’s almost two weeks before our next distribution. So if it’s lettuce, or something we know isn’t going to last that long, we’ve been giving it to the Senior Center and the Galilean Lutheran Church for their community meals. Then it doesn’t go to waste,” she explained.
“We’re just very excited about (Fresh Rescue) and whenever we’ve talked with any of the department managers at Safeway, they’re just delighted that the food isn’t going to waste.”
The increased access to a wide variety of food couldn’t come at a better time, Harley added, because the need continues to grow.
“We had a record number” at the regular food distribution on Nov. 2, she said. The Food Bank is on track to surpass last year’s record of 4,553 households served, representing 13,366 individuals.
They’ve already flown past last year’s 7,900 volunteer hours, with 9,268 hours donated through October. More information is available online at www.oceanshoresfoodbank.org.