‘Rescued’ food feeds hungry Minnesotans
It’s one of the coldest days of winter, but 40-below wind chills aren’t stopping Cam Hill from picking up fresh food for hungry Minnesotans. He promptly arrives at The Salvation Army Harbor Light Shelter in Minneapolis at 7:30 a.m., warms up his cargo van, fills his coffee cup, and zips his jacket.
“Buckle up,” says Hill (pictured above), who drops the van into gear. “Our first stop is Trader Joe’s in St. Louis Park.”
Hill is Harbor Light’s food coordinator. He picks up and organizes thousands of pounds of “rescued” food from local grocery stores – food that is close to, but not past, its expiration date (watch video).
He pulls up to Trader Joe’s at 7:45 a.m. and parks in front of the main entrance. Just inside the sliding doors (pictured, right), boxes and boxes of perishables have been set aside for him: apples, bananas, frozen hamburger … even flowers.
“The flowers will go on the tables at Harbor Light so people can feel like they’re eating in a nice place,” Hill says.
The donations fill half the van. Hill drives to a nearby Byerly’s grocery store and loads the other half with bread, broccoli, seafood, salad mix and fruit. He heads back to Harbor Light and drops off the food, then drives away to pick up more. By day’s end, he’ll have visited six or seven local grocery stores.
“We get hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars worth of food every few hours,” Hill says. “That’s a lot of food.”
The food will become hot meals in the next day or two. Rescued food accounts for about 60 percent of the ingredients Harbor Light uses in the 1,200-or-so hot meals it serves every day, and “lowers our overhead costs substantially,” says Camilla Shimonek, Harbor Light business manager.
Rescued food is a boon to Salvation Army food shelves and hot meal programs because it saves money and allows us to serve more people. The savings translate to more money for other important services like energy assistance and housing programs.
“God bless the grocery stores and restaurants that give us rescued food – their generosity allows us to serve people a healthier menu,” said Lt. Col. Robert Thomson, Salvation Army Northern Division commander.
The Salvation Army rescues food all over Minnesota.
The St. Cloud Salvation Army (pictured), for example, receives around 31,000 pounds of rescued food every month. About two-thirds of it comes from Coborn’s grocery stores, with the rest from Target, Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls, Leeann Chin, Country Hearth and Starbucks.
Rescued food has allowed the St. Cloud Salvation Army to go from serving one hot meal per day to all three: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Additionally, its food shelf now serves at least 35 families per day, up from 20.
“If this program weren’t in place, we would struggle to offer fresh items and have to resort to serving many meals from cans,” said Karla Rolfzen, social services program coordinator at the St. Cloud Salvation Army. “As the program has developed, we have seen increases in the quality, quantity and variety of fresh food. We can offer a large variety of food to meet people’s nutritional needs and their personal preference as well.”
Here are more examples of rescued food in action:
- Hibbing: The local Walmart gives 800 to 1,000 pounds of meat, produce, bakery items and dry goods three times per week. Jubilee Foods and Super One give several hundred pounds as well. “I would estimate these donations are worth anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per month,” said Nancy Massich, social worker at the Hibbing Salvation Army. “We could not afford to provide that much food if it were not for these donations.”
- Willmar: The bakeries at Cub Foods and Cash Wise give “lots and lots of bread and pastries – I mean a lot,” said Envoy Michael Fuqua, Willmar Salvation Army administrator. Two volunteers retrieve the bread three days a week and bring it to the Willmar Salvation Army, where locals in need can get some anytime.
- Brooklyn Park: Hunger has penetrated even the Twin Cities suburbs. Every week, the Brooklyn Park Salvation Army gives away several hundred pounds of bakery items, deli meats and produce donated by Byerly’s in Maple Grove. “We receive thank you notes and words of appreciation from the people who benefit from this food giveaway,” said Lt. Christina Wise, assistant administrator of the Brooklyn Park Salvation Army.
You can help get rescued food to the people who need it by volunteering at your local Salvation Army food shelf. There’s no better time to get involved than right now – it’s Minnesota FoodShare Month.
“Our food shelves need help with things like sorting donations and distributing food – it only takes an hour or two per week,” Thomson said. “Nothing compares to the joy our volunteers feel knowing they’ve helped a person or family in need. Nothing.”
Find your nearest Salvation Army by typing in your ZIP code at the top of this page.
Time starved? You can still help feed hungry families by making a donation.