Founded in 1982 as the world’s first food rescue organization, City Harvest (cityharvest.org) is dedicated to helping feed hungry New Yorkers.
The main service is collecting excess food from restaurants, grocers, bakeries, manufacturers, and farms, and delivering it free of charge to 500 community food programs across the city. This year (2015) they collected 55 million pounds of food. How much is that? A little bit of googling showed that the approximate weight of the empire state building is 7.3 million pounds. A quick calculation shows that to be about 7 and a half empire state worth of food; this is food that would have been thrown away but was instead divested by City Harvest. Impressive isn’t it?
I definitely found it impressive, in fact so impressive that I decided to volunteer with them. That’s where I learnt that City Harvest does a lot more to help fix the broken food system than just divert food. According to their website, “In addition to helping meet the immediate need for food, City Harvest takes a long-term approach to fighting hunger by partnering with residents, local organizations and businesses through various programs such as Healthy Neighborhoods.
Attending the volunteer orientation gave me the opportunity to learn more about them and also the wish to share what I learned. How often do we get to hear good, inspiring stories? Not too often in my (humble enough) opinion and that’s why this post..So read on:
Healthy Neighborhoods: City Harvest developed Healthy Neighborhoods programs to respond to the need for emergency food including access to fruits and vegetables for residents in low-income communities and providing nutrition education that will inspire affordable, healthy meal choices. They do this in partnership with residents, community organizations, after school programs, and local businesses.
Shopping tours: Volunteers also provide shopping tour to interested New Yorkers in the community they serve. The purpose and hope being that by teaching people how to shop for fruits and vegetables keeping their respective budgets in mind, they can teach them to shop, cook, and eat better. These tours and workshops are taught through Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters® at the Store workshops, definitely a creative and necessary website.
Mobile Markets: Mobile Markets began in 2004. These are free, farmers market-style distributions in low-income communities across the five boroughs, I had once participated in a mobile market in one deserving neighborhood of NYC. It was quite an experience and eye opener to take the subway from one of the richest to one of the poorest neighborhoods; two faces of the same world famous and much loved New York City! At these mobile markets, there are different stalls offering common fruits and vegetables. At the one I volunteered at, there was a stall offering just apples, another giving away potatoes and onions and one other handing out bags of a vegetable which even I had never eaten before (called rutabaga). People would line up for 3 or 5 pound bags (based on the size of their family) of these essential vegetables.
Cooking demonstrations: Part of the Mobile Markets has another volunteer led service called ‘Cooking Demo stalls.’ Basically whatever fruit or vegetable is being given away has a dish prepared from it at this stall to familiarize everyone taking the particular vegetable home on how to cook and eat it in a healthy fashion. The day I was volunteering, they were making a simple dish with diced rutabaga, onions, potatoes with a pinch of salt and turmeric- simple yet nutritious. These staff and volunteer led demos are also offered at senior centers, supermarkets, corner stores, health clinics, and other community gathering places.
Nutrition Education Programs: Volunteer led nutrition education classes started at City Harvest in 2000. They are now offered to high-need communities across all five NYC boroughs. These classes can be taken by anyone interested-adults, families, teenagers, or senior citizens.
City Harvest Fruit Bowl: At schools, City Harvest introduced pre-school and after school food workshops using fresh produce and low-fat dairy to teach life-long healthy eating habits to children and caregivers.
ACE: Through the Agency Capacity Expansion (ACE) program, City Harvest offers grants to selected emergency food programs for one-time projects to upgrade services and strengthen their ability to serve the community. In addition, City Harvest University courses on subjects such as fundraising and planning help improve agencies’ core skill sets so they can serve as a stable resource for their clients. This is one of the many ways that City Harvest increases community engagement by training community residents to be agents of change in their own neighborhoods. (src: city harvest.org)
Green Market Rescues: As part of food rescue, City Harvest works in partnership with many of the Farmer’s markets that are held throughout the city to collect produce that is not sold in any particular day and therefore may have gone waste.
Healthy Supermarkets and Corner Stores: City Harvest works with retailers to reach neighborhood residents where they shop for food. They offer assistance to these food retailers to increase the quantity, quality and variety of available produce.
Community Action Networks: To build public support for healthy food outlets, and sustain change over time, City Harvest convenes Community Action Networks (CANS) in each of the Healthy Neighborhoods. These networks engage residents and retailers who are committed to improving access to healthy food choices.
Food Repacks: Last but not the least, another unique way City Harvest and its volunteers help is by participating in the annual Thanksgiving repackathons..Over five days, teams of volunteers pack thousands of holiday boxes filled with healthy food that would otherwise go to waste – enough to help feed more than 20,000 hungry New Yorkers.