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Published: 6/26/2012

Local officials look to improve food distribution

BY MADELINE BUXTON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There may soon be new methods to streamline how food is provided to the needy throughout Toledo.

Officials of the ProMedica health-care organization and representatives from its community partners — Food for Thought, Cherry Street Mission, the Seagate Food Bank, and The Andersons — are considering ways to stretch their resources in the community and eliminate food waste after observing the efforts taken by Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization in Detroit.

Forgotten Harvest, a nonprofit program that serves Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties in Michigan, works to alleviate food waste and hunger.

During the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the organization was the largest food rescue program in the United States, saving 42 million pounds of food and deliveringit free to emergency food providers, including soup kitchens and churches.

"ProMedica has been working on hunger issues [in Toledo] because we are looking at hunger as a health issue and the implications of that," said Stephanie Cihon, the corporate director of community relations at ProMedica. "We had heard about Forgotten Harvest and wanted to see if some of the practices that they use we could utilize here."

ProMedica and its partners traveled to Forgotten Harvest facilities June 18.

Debbie Vas, executive director of the Toledo Seagate Food Bank, said she was interested in observing another food rescue facility to see how the food bank's methods might enhance its own programs. The organization frequently resorts to storage in its 80,000 square feet of warehouse space.

"They go from Point A to Point C without having to store," Ms. Vas said of Forgotten Harvest.

While in Detroit, ProMedica officials and their community partners toured the warehouse and distribution area. They inspected the food preparation facilities — where food is brought and broken down into 1-pound meals before being moved to a freezer area in small labeled packages — and saw the parts of the warehouse that handle fresh vegetables.

"We were overwhelmed by the scale of their operations and their entire infrastructure," Ms. Cihon said.

Ms. Vas said she was particularly impressed with Forgotten Harvest's delivery system and the organization's ability to pick up food and deliver it directly to food providers without going to an intermediary food storage location.

Ms. Cihon said no time line has been set for when components of Forgotten Harvest's program might be implemented in Toledo. She said there might eventually be a possibility of expanding into northwest Ohio, but there are no plans as of yet.

Those who traveled to Detroit are to reconvene in the near future, she said, to discuss what they saw and think about which parts of the program might be easily replicated in Toledo.

John Owens, a spokesman for Forgotten Harvest, said, "I was very impressed with the fact that the medical group is looking at attempting to get to the source of health issues, and that's nourishment." He said ProMedica and its team seem to be on the right path in terms of goals, but that they should understand change takes time.

According to a 2010-11 annual report from the organization, 96 billion pounds of food is wasted every year in the United States.

For their part, ProMedica and its partners hope the general public will understand change is possible if extra consideration is taken by food providers.

"I would like there to be more awareness to the public that there is waste and that waste doesn't have to be," Ms. Vas said. "It can actually help people and it can be handled with integrity according to sanitary regulations and can be given to the community at no cost."

Contact Madeline Buxton at: mbuxton@theblade.com or 419-724-6368.



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