Charlie O’Reilly: Rescued food program provides millions of meals
Each year, Americans throw away billions of pounds of food. Up to 40 percent of all food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed.
With one in four people in the Ozarks accessing food assistance, it’s hard to understand how so many people can be hungry, yet so much perfectly edible food is never ending up on dinner plates.
That dichotomy was what started the idea of a food bank nearly 60 years ago.
A retired businessman who volunteered his time at a soup kitchen in Arizona saw a mother digging through a grocery store’s garbage bins searching for food. The mother suggested to him that instead of throwing away food, it could be stored for people to pick up, similar to how banks store money for future use.
The first food bank was established by that businessman, John van Hengel, and by 1979 there was a national network of food banks across the country. Ozarks Food Harvest began serving the Ozarks a few years later in 1983.
Shortly before Ozarks Food Harvest moved into the O’Reilly Center for Hunger Relief in 2009, it started the Retail Pick-Up Program. It was one of the first food banks in the country to establish a program of that kind.
Since then, we have rescued over 29.5 million pounds of food from going to waste. That’s nearly 843,000 semi-trucks filled with food.
Staff coordinates weekly pick-ups of food donations from 86 grocers across the Ozarks, including ALDI, Fort Leonard Wood Commissary, G&W Foods, Harps Supermarket, Hy-Vee, Murfin’s Market, Price Cutter, Pennington’s Supermarket, Price Chopper Supermarket, Richards Brothers Supermarket, Target, Walmart, Walmart Neighborhood Market and Woods Supermarket. We simply could not have this program without their generous support.
The donations include produce, frozen meat, dairy and other perishable and nonperishable goods. Usually this food is donated because it does not meet standards for retail sales, but is still safe for consumption. All of these products are carefully inspected and sorted by volunteers and quickly delivered to our network of pantries and programs that help those in need.
This food is able to provide millions of meals to families in need right here in our community. And the grocers who participate in the program are rewarded for their donations with tax incentives.
It’s truly a win-win-win. For the grocers, for Ozarks Food Harvest and most importantly for the families struggling with hunger.
Shawntel, a 37-year-old mother of five, says the food she receives from the Mobile Food Pantry is critical to helping her feed her family. “This food means a lot. It helps out because we have a big family, there are seven of us,” she said. “The food is right on time and it helps with the extra dinners during the week and weekend.”
We’ve been able to make a significant impact on reducing food waste and helping families like Shawntel’s because of the space at this current facility, but imagine how much more food we’ll be able to rescue when the facility doubles in size next year.
If you are a grocer or restaurateur, contact Bart today to find out how you can get involved in reducing food waste. We all can do our part to solve hunger in the Ozarks.
Charlie O’Reilly is the vice-chair of O’Reilly Automotive’s Board of Directors, a hunger-relief advocate and supporter of Ozarks Food Harvest.