On an average day, Mark Waters will rescue 1,500 pounds of food from around 11 donors in Duluth, Minn. and Superior, Wis. He stuffs the large truck with the boxes of perishable goods and then distributes them to about seven agencies daily.
"If all the shelves (in the truck) are filled up and we have plenty of meat and a variety of vegetables and fruit, that's a good day," said Waters. "And if I'm on schedule."
Waters is one of the drivers for the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank Fresh and Perishable Food Recovery program. Food that would otherwise be thrown out by grocery stores and restaurants is picked up and driven the same day to organizations that can use fresh food such as Churches United in Ministry (CHUM) and the Bethany Crisis Center.
Today, Monday, October 31, 2011, is challenging because the truck started to fill early in the day.
"When you get a lot (of food) you almost have to push it in," Waters said. "But a lot of times I don't even have this much and I have to be like the food police."
A few of today’s donors were Caribou Coffee, Super One, Saint Mary’s Hospital and an unscheduled stop at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) concessions. About twice a week Water’s receives phone calls from donors that aren’t on his regular schedule, the DECC being one of them. Waters guesses that they must have had a big event a few days prior as he loads up the crates of juice and bags of hot dogs and popcorn into his truck.
The donors give perishable items such as fruits and vegetables that are nearing their expiration date. The food collected is by no means spoiled, but there are certain safety regulations that prevent it from being sold. Everything that is delivered is safe to eat.
Though Waters mostly collects produce, the most coveted items are meat and "pans". Pans are frozen precooked meals or dishes that can be thawed and served in locations that don't have full kitchens.
When Waters arrives at a donor's location, he takes the boxes of food to the back of his truck and writes a code on each box that tells him where it was donated from, what is in the box, and an estimated weight.
"We have a portable scale in the back of the truck but if I use that it would be a 16-hour day," Waters said. "So we just estimate."
As soon as Waters is done doing some quick math on the weight, he closes up the truck, the refrigerator kicks in and he is on to his next stop.
The Fresh and Perishable Food Recovery program is the lifeblood to many different soup kitchens and shelters around the Twin Ports area. Most have small budgets and only use them to supplement what they can't get from the food truck. Last year a total of 400,000 pounds of food were rescued and donated.
The first agency of today to receive food is the Bethany Crisis Center, which is a shelter for young people, from birth to 17.
"Oh my God in heaven!" said head cook Carla Melander as she sees the day's selection.
Melander watches as Waters starts naming off items she might be interested in. She takes a few boxes of fruit and vegetables, a couple crates of juice and decides she's got enough. Undeterred, Waters convinces Melander to take some more fruit, hot dogs from the DECC and some snack cakes "as treats for the kids."
It is not a hard sell.
“The kids help cook in the kitchen so hopefully they go away with easy to prepare, healthy foods that they can make at home,” said Melander. “It gives them something else other than Ramen.”
Melander signs for the food and Waters closes up his truck before heading off to the Salvation Army Food Shelf. Once there, food services coordinator Carol Perkins takes a big portion out of Waters' truck.
She is expecting a large crowd for lunch today. The food provided by the food recovery truck is going to help make it go a little more smoothly.
"If it wasn't for these people, the meals wouldn't be nearly as good," Perkins said. "I've done a lot of last minute home cooking with this stuff."