Food bank supplies thousands with meals with help from grocers

By Brett Adkins After Chad Follmer does his daily truck inspection, he gets ready to buckle up and hit the road to rescue an item that 11 percent of the people in the Northland are looking for: food.

“Our shelves have enough food to feed a lot of people,” Follmer said as he steers his brown, refrigerated truck through downtown Duluth. “The challenge is to get those items to the people who really need it.”

The Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank collects over 318,000 meals through their Food Recovery Program. They rescue perishable food from local hospitals, schools, restaurants, caterers and retail grocery stores in order to make a delivery to a local organization whose mission is to feed the hungry.

“Our goal is to collect the food that would otherwise be going into our waste stream,” said Shaye Moris, the executive director of the food bank.

In one morning, Follmer visits Cub Foods, Target Super Center, Super One, Pizza Hut and Whole Foods.

“It’s not one of those jobs where you’re sitting at a desk waiting for the hours to go by, it definitely keeps me going,” Follmer said as he works hard lifting 10 -pound boxes.  “I can’t even fit into my old jeans anymore!”

Then he delivers the food to a participating organization such as the Vineyard Church, Damiano Soup Kitchen, Lake Shore Celebration Church, Minnesota Teen Challenge, Union Gospel Mission and Life House.

“Some items are marked with today’s sell date while others are only a day or two old,” Follmer said as he weighs each box of produce and meat. “We try to take what we can otherwise we take the good and leave the bad.”

Cub Foods is the food bank’s top donor. Cub provides a significant amount of red meat, an item that ranks high on every organization’s grocery list.

“The food we donate is still wholesome but it’s just beyond its shelf life,” said Tom Land, the manager of Cub Foods. “And I feel that donating those items is the right thing to do.”

The food rescue truck is well known around the streets of Duluth and Superior. Road rage seems to become extinct as some stop to wave at the aged and rustic delivery vehicle. The employees and the volunteers within each organization are also hardworking citizens who take the time to feed the poor.

The Damiano Soup Kitchen offers the largest on site meal program in the city of Duluth serving seven hot meals each week. Damiano serves over 90,000 meals a year.

“Eighty percent of the food we use is salvaged and must come from the food bank,” said David Benson, executive director of the Damiano Center.

Benson says, the Northern Lakes Food Bank helps Damiano save money while allowing them to offer a more balanced, healthier meal by using fresh fruits, vegetables and meat in dishes that would normally not be affordable.

“When you can take whatever you got and make a good meal out of it, that takes talent,” Follmer said as he opens the back door to his truck while hungry guests at CHUM begin to unload.

After a long morning, the truck that was once stocked with rescued food items is now empty. The job proves to be rewarding as those who are accepting the food are willing to help in every way they can.

“It’s an immediate thank you when I stop at each organization and people go through my truck in search for food that our program has rescued,” Follmer said.

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