Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Agricultural donations help food bank fight hunger

Cold storage at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank's facility in Susquehanna Township. - (Photo / Submitted)

Although the vast majority of Central Pennsylvania residents are familiar with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and how it operates at the level of individual donations, a much smaller percentage are aware of the lesser-known but vital link between the food bank and the region’s various agribusinesses.

In recent years, they have partnered to reduce food waste and place it where it belongs — on the tables of the area’s most food-insecure residents.

According to Central Pennsylvania Food Bank Executive Director Joe Arthur, the organization currently has an active, ongoing partnership with close to 40 agribusinesses in the midstate, including 33 vegetable and fruit farms and several meat and dairy processors.

“There’s been a stronger push for fresh food, produce and dairy,” he said.

That push has led to a boom in agricultural alliances that promote relationships between the food bank and agricultural donors.

“We’ve been growing it dramatically over the past several years,” Arthur added.

Many of these agricultural programs and partnerships have come about as a result of the food bank’s strong relationship with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Arthur said. The department works in conjunction with the food bank to identify and reach out to agribusinesses and corporate entities that may produce surplus product.

The food bank also utilizes the services of various agricultural associations, such as the PA Dairymen’s Association, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and a wide variety of “veggie” associations to identify and reach out to potential agribusiness donors. However, the food bank often takes the initiative on its own to reach out to farms directly to negotiate potential donations, Arthur said.

One such farm is the family-owned Rice Fruit Co. in Biglerville, Adams County, which has been donating to the food bank for longer than spokesperson Emily Rice-Townsend can remember. In 2012, the business began making weekly donations of produce to its local food pantry run by South Central Community Actions Programs (SCCAP), which is sourced by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, she said. Rice Fruit Co. currently donates approximately 800 pounds of fruit every week.

Specifically, when the fruit grower works with the food bank, it focuses on economic and inventory efficiency to determine which products to donate.

“For example, we may have packed products that are unlikely to sell in their current packed product form due to an unusual pack or a small remaining quantity,” Rice-Townsend said. “These products, which could either continue to sit in inventory or have to be repacked, are good candidates for partners like food banks. We also use selection criteria like varieties that are seeing low demand in the marketplace or product that has a shorter shelf life.”

The newest development for the food bank, adopted in April 2016, is the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS), a statewide program intended to put food grown by Pennsylvania farmers and food producers into the charitable food system. The program helps to more effectively distribute healthy food to food charities. PASS made $1 million of funding available in the 2015-16 budget, and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank was selected as the winning bidder to implement the new program. As such, it is the food bank’s responsibility to work with state anti-hunger associations to serve the entire state, which in turn work with over 3,000 individual charitable organizations throughout the commonwealth.

“It’s a winner,” Arthur said.

All items donated by agribusinesses, corporations or individuals are accepted past the sell-by date but not past the use-by date, he said. Dairy is typically moved through the system much faster and is not donated, as it comes straight from the producer. The food bank also does not deal with “end-of-life” fruits and vegetables. Instead, produce comes either directly from the farm or from the distribution centers for grocery chains.

Overall, Arthur said the food bank feels fortunate to be located in a great transportation hub that’s abundant in both agricultural resources and corporate donors who play a vital role in bolstering the food bank.

“They’re hugely important to us,” he said.

Business Events

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit

Health Care Heroes

Tuesday, April 04, 2023
Health Care Heroes

Nonprofit Innovation Awards

Thursday, May 18, 2023
Nonprofit Innovation Awards

Women of Influence

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
Women of Influence