Loaves And Fishes
There’s that Normal Rockwell painting that sums up our joy of holiday eating. You know the one: the grandmother bringing the turkey to the table, all the smiling faces upturned and eager. Through that one image, the bounty and thankfulness of the season at hand resonates.
But in this Instagram age, you’ve got to wonder, what’s outside the borders of the image? If you could just zoom out a bit, what might appear at the margins?
And there, outside the frame, are others on the outside looking in. Instead of upturned healthy faces—needy eyes, empty stomachs. Instead of gathering together and enjoying community—longing and alienation. The have-nots wishing for a little of what the others have.
But this isn’t just anywhere, it’s here. Over 63,000 people in the Upstate are considered food insecure. But because of one man’s initiative and generosity over 25 years ago, there’s now a whole lot more room at the table.
When local businessman Sam Hunt read an article about what an organization called Local Harvest in New York City was doing to redistribute food (or “food rescue” as the industry calls it), he was fascinated. And more than that, he was motivated; Hunt had the vision to say, “Well, if New York can do it, Greenville can too.”
And Loaves and Fishes became.
On any given morning, the Loaves and Fishes office buzzes with phone calls, deliveries and laughter. This small staff does big work in the community, supplying over 100 partner agencies with fresh “rescued” food from area grocery stores, restaurants and distribution centers. Just how much food? Try 1.9 million pounds rescued just in 2015. Pounds of good, fresh food that would otherwise fill landfills instead of plates and stomachs.
Paulette Dunn, Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes, says, “These are your neighbors and coworkers. Yes, we work with homeless shelters and soup kitchens. But many people have experienced one small tragedy that’s left them reeling: their car breaks down, they can’t get to work, they get fired, and suddenly there’s no food in the house.”
Tessa May, Development Coordinator, adds, “Hunger doesn’t look like the stereotype. We’ve had people call and ask if they would be judged for the type of car they drive to the food bank. Hunger strikes a wide margin; you just don’t know who around you may be struggling. But I know this: more often than not, they look just like you and me.”
In fact, even while one out of every six people in the United States struggles with hunger, food waste remains the largest single component sent to landfills: 21% of what we throw away is wasted food, which means every household disposes of 20 pounds a food each month.
This doesn’t add up: there are hungry people, and there’s all this food going to waste. How does Loaves and Fishes work to connect good food with those who need it most?
One Thursday this fall, a Loaves and Fishes delivery truck (one of three) packed to the gills with organic salad mix, ears of corn and flats of strawberries pulls up in their office lot. Any assumptions that the food donated is old or spoiled is put to rest the instant the door slides open: “This is food I would love to cook with,” Paulette says.
Tessa says, “Fresh produce is so welcome, and we are thrilled with our new partnerships this year.” She gestures towards another delivery, a cart full of green beans and butternut squash picked from a community garden that morning. “These are vital nutrients. This is good, fresh food I’m proud to deliver to those who otherwise would have no access to it.”
Volunteers from a few local organizations arrive. Some begin loading their vehicles directly from the Loaves and Fishes refrigerated truck. One group volunteers for a soup kitchen, the other for a women’s shelter. Because of the direct connections Loaves and Fishes provides, there’s no warehouse storage; food is delivered directly and used almost immediately.
Volunteers are essential to the organization, and getting involved is simple. Each week, an email blast alerts volunteer drivers of pickup routes available. Drivers sign up for a designated route (for example, a grocery store’s day-old bakery items to be delivered to an after school program), and on that day, drive from the pick up site to the drop off. “Because both our volunteers and generous donors are well-informed and educated ahead of time, the food picked up is food we would feed our own families,” Paulette explains.
“I basically exchange empty bins for full,” says volunteer Sally Clarke. “My kids are usually with me, and it’s really very easy and convenient. More than anything, it’s just so fulfilling for me—it’s a joy to meet the donors and I’m happy to help.”
Twenty-five years is quite an accomplishment, but the good work of food recovery rolls on. What does Loaves and Fishes need most from the community? Tessa’s reply is succinct: “I don’t want to sugar coat it. We need money.” Through fundraising events like Taste of the Upstate and Rock Out Hunger, as well as grant writing and other generous donations, Loaves and Fishes still dreams of doing more. Food pantries need cold storage for fresh meat and produce. Refrigerated trucks require gas and paid drivers.
“Our big dream for the future is really just to broaden our scale so we can offer what we do to a wider area.” Paulette smiles. “It’s really that simple. There’s such a need out there and there’s always more we can do.”
Farm-to-table becomes farm to an even bigger, broader table. Instead of being an initiative only for the privileged few, now more people than ever can have access to local delicious fruits and vegetables. “I see firsthand the amount of hard work, dedication and time that farmers put into growing food, and I see the needs of other South Carolinians who all too often go hungry. I truly believe that we can sustain our state’s economy by eliminating wasted food and further empower our own neighbors as we feed the hungry,” said S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers. South Carolina recently launched an initiative to decrease food waste statewide by 50% by 2030.
In this holiday season, which for most of us is a time of thanksgiving and harvest, of plenty and generosity, it’s the time to celebrate, but also to change perspective. In order to ease the fatigue many charities feel at the turn of the year after the generosity of holiday giving wanes, Loaves and Fishes hosts “Feeding the Thousands.” This annual initiative collects canned food and turkeys beginning the week before Thanksgiving and running through the new year, keeping food bank shelves full long after. You can donate food, volunteer to pick up donations, host a food drive, or box meals for delivery by signing up on the Loaves and Fishes website.
Look around, and scoot in a little closer, Upstate. Time to make more room around the table. Maybe that’s just as Mr. Rockwell intended. After all, the name of that painting is “Freedom from Want.”
Loaves and Fishes
25 Woods Lake Road
For more information, check out these websites: www.scdhec.gov/dontwastefoodsc and www.epa.gov/sustainable-managementfood/ food-recovery-hierarchy
Local banker Sam Hunt reads about City Harvest, a food rescue program in New York City.
Loaves and Fishes is established.
Vince Perrone's, a local restaurant, is one of the first large donors. The first executive director of L&F, Carly Culbertson, recalls “Volunteers often would rescue pate and caviar which ended up being served at the soup kitchen!”
Volunteers rescue over 19,000 pounds of food.
A refrigerated box truck donated by the Cline family is necessary to receive more product, and the first paid driver is hired.
A Thanksgiving feast for 1,000 people is set at the Red Lobster on Pleasantburg Drive, with enough food donated to feed 3,000 more at local shelters.
Taste of the Nation donates over $26,000 at a time when most charities are feeling “charity fatigue” from the economy and natural disaster relief.
As donors and needs grow, another driver is hired to assist with larger donations and deliveries.
Loaves and Fishes is awarded a Sisk Foundation grant, given to "applicants that serve the indigent needs of their community.”
17 years in, Loaves and Fishes’ "Feeding the Thousands" program delivered 3,329 boxed Thanksgiving meals in addition to holding turkey and canned food drives for local food banks and shelters.
An 81-year-old man at Holland Park Church of Christ has a recurring dream of growing a garden behind the church. With the help of some friends, he plants 1½ acres, donating the majority of his harvest to Loaves and Fishes.
At 25 years old, over 1.9 million pounds of food rescued, and 100 volunteers strong, Loaves and Fishes continues to feed the Upstate.