Starting in early November I think a lot about food, and this obsession carries me right through New Year’s Day. I get out my mom’s sacred cookbooks that have doodles in the corners and hysterical comments like “Crazy Janie snuck a fourth piece of this cake and thought no one noticed. I guess she’s off her diet!” I also scour the NY Times for their most popular online recipes, and bug my friends for their go-to entrees and desserts. Yesterday, my sofa and lap were overflowing with cookbooks when my eye caught the newspaper’s headline: ONE IN 3 CHILDREN IN WESTCHESTER DON’T GET ENOUGH TO EAT EVERY DAY.
I tossed aside my plethora of cookbooks and read the article. The organization, Feeding Westchester, says one-in-five people in the county, including one-in-three children, don't get enough to eat every day. For over thirty years, the Food Bank for Westchester has collected food and distributed it to the County's hungry, and as they mark their 30th anniversary as the region's premier anti-hunger organization, the group is celebrating and re-branding as "Feeding Westchester.”
For Leslie Gordon, President and CEO of Feeding Westchester, championing the fight to end hunger runs in her genes. Every Saturday, her grandfather’s Tarrytown synagogue would confidentially pass along names of families in need. In those days there were no formal food pantries or soup kitchens, so volunteers would simply place the groceries on people’s front steps, ring the doorbell and walk away. “It’s a story that has really stuck with me about the importance of not only giving back, but what really resonates is that it’s important for all of us to play a role in feeding our residents in Westchester,” Gordon said.
Two generations later, Gordon manages an organization that provided more than 8 million pounds of food to people in need last year. ‘We’re at the heart of a network of 300 partners that help us move food to people who need it. It’s food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, senior centers, housing complexes, and health clinics,” Gordon said.
Their 8 refrigerated trucks can be seen on the roads every day, picking up donations from over 80 farmers, wholesalers and retailers. Back at their 30,000-square-foot distribution center, volunteers quickly inspect, sort, and pack it all for distribution. The trucks then deliver this delicious and nutritious food to over 300 partner food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and day care centers. The deliveries often occur the same day that the food is recovered! Feeding Westchester has partnerships with retailers throughout the County, including Stop & Shop, Acme, ShopRite, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, BJ’s, Walmart and Target.
Fresh produce is the largest growing portion of their overall inventory, and they rescue good excess food that would otherwise go to waste and end up in landfills. “Maybe it’s a new product that just didn’t really fly well with consumers, but there’s nothing wrong with it, or the food might be coming to its use-by, sell-by, use-before dates,” explained Gordon.
How Can You Help?
Feeding Westchester relies on volunteers to help with a variety of exciting projects. They need people to help plant, weed and care for vegetables at their farm sites, and to sort and pack food at their warehouse. Volunteers are also needed to assist with special events, in the office or at Mobile Food Pantry distributions. The Mobile Food Pantry brings fresh protein, dairy, produce, and grains directly to areas where people congregate.
All the mobile truck requires is a parking lot or open space to create a distribution site that is easy for clients to access. Feeding Westchester’s staff and volunteers remain on site for the entire distribution, and the food is displayed in a manner similar to a farmers’ market. The Mobile Food Pantry utilizes a “client choice” model and distributes to sites such as libraries, local schools and community centers. On average, half of the people served through this program are children! Pace University, Peekskill School and Ossining School are only some of the locations on the calendar for December. Most volunteer opportunities are 2-3 hours and can be a one-time or on-going commitment. There are opportunities to help during the week or on weekends and corporate, community and school groups are encouraged to get involved.
Food Rescue US is another creative model in our area, and it’s rapidly expanding. Hunger in the United States makes no sense because in our digitally connected world, bridging the gap between excess and access isn’t just possible, it’s simple. Unlike traditional models, Food Rescue US lowers overhead costs, increases access to fresh food, and ensures that food rescued today is delivered today all with an easy to use mobile app.
Wherever you are – and however much time you have – the app lets you play a critical role in rescuing and delivering meals. Here’s How It Works:
Restaurants, grocers or other food providers list surplus food that they want to donate. They then use the app to request a food pickup by answering a few short questions. The algorithm will instantly match their surplus food to a nearby shelter -- a driver will then be dispatched to pick up the food.
Food Rescue US has provided a way for compassionate volunteers to make a difference for their neighbors. Volunteers use the app to connect with on demand, self-scheduling opportunities to feed hungry people right near where they live. Spend 30 minutes and feed 30 people all while making a positive impact on the environment.
Receiving agencies such as community kitchens or food pantries post their needs on the app and find available food to match them.
After reading the article, I downloaded the mobile app (iPhone, Google Play) to become a food deliverer. It took less than 5 minutes to complete my online form, and I could then view their calendar listing the food pickups and deliveries needed for the month of December that were within 10 miles of my home. Before church on Christmas Eve my husband, daughter and I will pick up food at a local market and deliver to a food pantry 10 miles away. The whole trip will take less than 30 minutes. When we sit down to our own Christmas Day feast, it will have a little more meaning this year.
*Portions of this article were based on an interview with Leslie Gordon by Ryan Deffenbaugh on June 17, 2018 for the Business Journal westfairinc.com.