Welcome back for the conclusion of my interview with Gary Oppenheimer, CNN hero and founder of AmpleHarvest.org. Hi, Gary! We covered the basics in the first half of our conversation. You've essentially created a bridge between home gardeners and food pantries. What exactly do the folks utilizing the food pantries get out of participating in this program?
They're getting fresh food, they're getting healthy food. But they're also getting food at its most nutritious and that's what the clients end up taking home. What I just harvested for my wife downstairs is the same stuff that a client might get at a pantry"
Is AmpleHarvest.org only of use to people who actually garden? And how can we help if we don't have a garden plot or a green thumb?
I'm glad you asked that question! I have two answers for you. You may live in an apartment and just be growing herbs in your kitchen window. You can donate those. That answers that question. The bigger question is, you remember my friend Adam, [my] former boss? In September of 2009, Adam comes back and says, "Gary, now I'm available to help you. What help do you need?" I had realized that when a pantry in Brighton, Colorado, registered themselves, they did something I hadn't expected. ..When you register your pantry, you put in your basic contact information. There's another field there for additional information. In my mind's eye, that field was for things like, "Come to the back door, call before you're going to come." This pantry said, "We really need" and they gave a list of store-bought items. I had never thought about that.
It's a perfectly good use for AmpleHarvest.org. This is the pantry talking back to the community, saying, "I need diapers and canned fish," whatever. I said, "Adam, I need an iPhone app that people can use when they go shopping" and Adam said he could build it. Normally, apps cost $20,000 to build. Adam put it together for 500 bucks and the Good People Fund provided the funding for that. So, we have a free iPhone app. When you're at the supermarket and you see tuna fish or diapers dirt cheap and you have a few extra bucks in your pocket, you can whip out your iPhone and find out which food pantry in [your]neighborhood really needs this item and you can take it to them.
That's terrific! You answered my question.
AmpleHarvest.org provides the opportunity for food pantries to actually tell their local communities those store-bought items they most need. Or conversely, what they don't want. You may find a pantry in a Jewish or Moslem community saying, "Please don't donate pork and beans." Now, this is not intended to diminish donations to food banks. People should be donating to food banks. But this opens up opportunities for the neighborhood to get more involved with the food pantry. Now, other things have happened on AmpleHarvest.org that go beyond what I had envisioned but are perfectly consistent with the intent of getting food to food pantries.
I got a call last February from an insurance company in North Carolina. They were sort of asking me permission to do what they were already doing. I subscribe to the belief that it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Apparently, when an 18-wheeler is bringing food to a supermarket and it's involved in an accident has a roll-over - the supermarket will not take the food.
Because it's presumably been dented or something?
Even undamaged, boxed and canned food, they won't take it. Historically, the entire contents of an 18-wheeler gets thrown into a landfill.
What a terrible waste!
You bet! The insurance company, bless their souls, realized that it's a waste and they started using AmpleHarvest.org to find food pantries willing to take the undamaged food. Brilliant idea. Wonderful.
There's a farmer in Pennsylvania in June called me and asked me permission. He was growing 200 acres of corn under contract to somebody. But the requirement was that the corn would only be accepted if the ears were seven inches or longer. Ears under seven inches just wouldn't be accepted. He was plowing them under, in past years. He was asking permission to use AmpleHarvest.org to find pantries to donate the smaller ears to. I said, "Absolutely! Go for it."
There's a website called WhyHunger.org. It's run by the USDA and its focus is on global hunger issues. Apparently, when farmers contact WhyHunger.org and say, "I have extra food I haven't been able to harvest or sell. What can I do with it?" they're sending them to AmpleHarvest.org to find a food bank or food pantry to donate to. So, AmpleHarvest.org has evolved into a national resource for reclaiming and salvaging food. It wasn't really my intent but it's the perfect use for the site. If you go to the AmpleHarvest.org website and you go to "In the News" page, and you scroll to the bottom, you'll see a bunch of organizational and governmental websites that are now using AmpleHarvest.org as a reference for people.