Growing Connections, Feeding Communities

By Becky Volk
Social Media Specialist, Tarrant Area Food Bank

Field to Plate

What do you think of when you hear the words food waste? Do images of unpurchased apples or bananas at your local grocery store come to mind? According to the National Geographic Future of Food article, One Third of Food is Lost or Wasted: What Can Be Done, 30 percent of food grown in the U.S. never gets eaten. Now, what do you think of when you hear the words food rescue?

Food rescue is becoming the topic of more and more mainstream conversations. Meanwhile, it has weighed heavily on the minds of farmers, grocers, food banks and others over the years.

For a decade or more, Feeding America food banks across the country, including Tarrant Area Food Bank (TAFB), have been working with partners in the food industry to develop and manage food donation programs, also known as food rescue programs. The goal of these programs is to work collaboratively with grocers and other food suppliers in the collection, storage and transportation of fresh and nutritious produce so that it can fulfill its purpose to feed and nourish individuals, and ultimately strengthen communities.

To The Rescue, Food Rescue That Is

Leading efforts on TAFB’s behalf is Senior Director of Food Sourcing Jim Macphearson. Jim began working for TAFB in 2004 after he sold his business. It was while running his own company that Jim crossed paths with TAFB and Barb Ewen, who hired him for the food sourcing position.

In the beginning, Jim worked solo seven days a week. He spent five days in the office and on the weekends would travel around TAFB’s 13-county service area to visit food industry partners.

Things were very different in the food bank world when Jim began working for TAFB. For food banks across the country, it was unclear where they were going to get the amount of food they needed to help feed millions of food-insecure children, families and seniors without having to pay for the majority of it. “Today, we have the opposite problem. While we still have a food insecurity issue, we know where the food is,” said Jim as he noted how times have changed.

“The challenge today is moving the food safely and quickly, so people can have a nourishing meal to eat.” Jim Macphearson

Food Safety

The 10,000 square miles of TAFB’s 13-county service area were too much for one person to travel across regularly, so over the years two additional staff members, Staci Ray and Steve Martin, have joined Jim in working with TAFB food industry partners.

In addition to finding new food donors, Jim and his team work to empower Partner Agencies serving those in need to participate in the store donation programs of TAFB food industry partners. Staci and Steve conduct food safety trainings for Partner Agency staff and volunteers as well as grocery store staff. Food safety protocols must be met on every level. Every detail needs to be followed when it comes to the shelf life of different types of food as well as food storage and food transportation.

At times, TAFB does not have enough trucks and time to travel a long distance and pick up food donations several times a week from a partner grocer, such as one 82 miles away in Stephenville. When this kind of situation arises, TAFB can reach out to a Partner Agency in the grocery partner’s community to coordinate pick up of those food donations and ensure that they are transported quickly and safely to the agency. This relationship helps keep that food in the community and get it to the plates of families experiencing food insecurity faster.

Capturing Food

The TAFB Food Sourcing team is not limited to working with grocery stores alone; they also work with local farmers, food processors and manufacturers, wholesalers, discount brokers, distributors or transportation companies and more. For example, Fort Worth is rich with manufacturing companies that make soups or sauces. These products are items that can be incorporated into recipes in the TAFB Community Kitchen or distributed through TAFB feeding programs.

“Anyone or any business that touches food is partnership we are trying to find.” Jim Macphearson

Harvesting Help

Today, TAFB partners with 157 national and local grocers through their store donation programs to acquire not only shelf-stable food items but also, fresh produce, meat and dairy items.

These partnerships would not be possible without the passionate work of Jim and his Food Sourcing team.

“We’re farming for partnerships. These partnerships don’t happen overnight. We have to water and nurture these relationships in order to build strong partnerships, so these partners will bring us not only food, but funds and volunteer support as well as their expertise in helping us achieve our mission.” Jim Macphearson.