On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, in a room inside City Harvest’s 45,500-square-foot distribution warehouse at the southern tip of Long Island City, Queens, around 30 volunteers assemble boxes and move them down a makeshift assembly line, where others fill them with ingredients for a holiday meal: bags of sweet potatoes, stripetti and delicata squash, canned beans and pumpkin.
Despite the ubiquity of canned food drives, particularly around the holidays, the canned items, says Max Hoffman, City Harvest’s food sourcing manager, are somewhat of an anomaly in the LIC warehouse: Over 50% of the food that City Harvest distributes is fresh produce. That makes the New York City nonprofit somewhat of an anomaly–with a few notable exceptions, mainly in California, produce makes up less than 10% of standard food bank inventory.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization (its annual budget nears $30 million), wants to make City Harvest’s produce parity the norm for food banks, rather than the exception. In the past year and a half, the nonprofit and parent organization of a network of 200 food banks (of which City Harvest is a part) launched an effort to mitigate food waste and close the nutrition gap by developing a new system to source excess produce and distribute it to its food banks across the country. Since 2014, before Feeding America launched this initiative, they’ve increased the annual amount of produce sourced by nearly 500 million pounds.