March 23, 2015
by Vanessa Cochran

Bay Area Food Bank in Alabama serves 24 counties along the Central Gulf Coast. The average food insecurity rate in this region is almost 20%, compared to 15.9% nationally. In addition, the obesity rate in these counties falls between 30 and 35%. Bay Area Food Bank strives to not only reduce food insecurity, but to increase the nutritious food available to low-income communities – with the long-term goal of reducing obesity in the region. 

Sourcing fresh produce is integral to the food bank’s mission. Due to better inventory control in grocery stores, the food bank has also seen a decrease in canned food donations, making fresh produce donations more important than ever.

Working with fresh produce has its challenges – the short-shelf life of produce requires quick turnaround from the donor to the community. The food bank’s member agencies are often hesitant to take fresh product because they do not have the cold storage needed or don’t have room in their budgets for product that may rot before it’s eaten. People in need may also turn down fresh produce because they are not familiar with it and do not know how to prepare meals using fresh produce.

To better understand the challenges of sourcing produce, Bay Area Food Bank is participating in Feeding America’s Produce Capture Institute – a two year, peer-to-peer learning grant funded by Cargill, which encourages food banks across the country to learn from one another and increase the amount of fresh produce available to the Feeding America network.

Bay Area Food Bank’s primary challenges are storing produce and moving it quickly into communities. Through its Retail Store Level Pickup Program, the food bank receives over 5,000 pounds of produce daily from grocery stores. With funding from The General Mills Foundation, the food bank is installing Airocide units in the warehouse cooler. Airocide units remove gases and bacteria from the air that accelerate decay in produce. The General Mills Foundation funds have also helped cover the expense of conducting produce distributions in communities with limited access to fresh produce. By partnering with member agencies, the food bank is moving produce quickly through same day distributions, eliminating the time produce spends on food pantry shelves. Reaipe cards accompany produce bags, offering tips on how to prepare the produce to create simple and tasty dishes.

These produce distributions have been popular, attracting over 200 households each time and moving over 2,000 pounds of produce. With the success of these first few produce distributions, the food bank is on target to distribute 50,000 pounds of produce in the first half of 2015.

Vanessa 300x300 Vanessa Cochran is the Donor Resources Manager at Bay Area Food Bank. Since joining the food bank in 2012, she has helped build the organization’s community garden and gleaning programs and increased the food bank’s capacity to source produce. Vanessa has a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University.

Tags: Innovative Solutions to Hunger , Nutrition , Alabama , Feeding the Gulf Coast

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