As children, we learned about the importance of eating enough of each of the food groups – meat, grains, dairy, vegetables and fruit.
Now, in my role as the product sourcing coordinator for the St. Louis Area Foodbank, that basic lesson is even more valuable – particularly since it is my job to bring in food for families in need.
My department works daily to solicit food donations from several sources: federal (USDA) commodities; local retail stores such as Walmart or Target; national manufacturers such as Kraft Foods; and of course, individual food drives.
From these sources, we strive to bring in a balance of bread, meat, dairy products and fresh produce.
But while each food group is essential for well-rounded nutrition, veggies and fruits get the gold star! Fresh fruits and vegetables are one of the most overlooked categories of food, yet the most beneficial to the human body for energy and good health.
Fortunately, St. Louis is blessed to have an outstanding produce market right in our backyard – Produce Row.
Produce Row was established in St. Louis nearly 60 years ago, alongside our mighty Mississippi River.
This massive market includes 20 different business-to-business food service companies that receive produce from local farmers, as well as farms across the country. The fresh vegetables and fruit they receive are distributed to local restaurants, grocers and educational institutions.
The St. Louis Area Foodbank has had the honor over the last several years to partner with some of these businesses. The donations may include any produce items that fall into these categories:
- Low weight
- Off spec
In this fast-paced, 24-7 operation, it is crucial that the businesses maintain strict guidelines. They must keep their product fresh and sellable according to warehouse space, availability and product shelf life.
If there are items that do not meet these guidelines – such as imperfectly-shaped fruit – the Foodbank can distribute this food immediately to our families in need so it can be eaten instead of thrown in the trash.
Over the last two years, I have had the good fortune to meet and work with the team at Sunfarm Foodservice #84 Produce Row, one of the largest businesses in the market.
Sunfarm landed their spot on Produce Row in 1991 and have been serving the area with their remarkable products ever since. As one of our weekly local donors, they supply the Foodbank with any items that are obtainable for donation after their inventory check.
Last year, Sunfarm donated over 35,000 pounds to our organization. In just the first two months of this year, they have donated nearly 10,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Foodbank.
This week I visited Sunfarm at Produce Row as one of our Foodbank drivers, Dale Vandeven, made a produce pick up. This visit gave me the chance to gain further insight on what exactly made Sunfarm stand out from the rest.
As Dale loaded the truck with our pallet of bananas, lettuce and tomatoes, I made my usual rounds of “hellos” to the familiar and friendly faces in the warehouse.
Sunfarm President John Pollaci explained that their operation does far more than deliver basic produce to restaurants.
“Our client list runs anywhere from your neighborhood eatery or café to your finest restaurant and country club,” Pollaci says. “We have the greatest accounts with fine dining services, which encompass our high quality products. We also handle accounts with area schools and have recently established a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program with 15 St. Louis public schools.”
“We represent a business with expertise in specialty items,” says Anthony Parrino, warehouse associate. “We carry items from imported white asparagus to Daikon sprouts to edible orchids and anything in between. Some of the most rich and resourceful produce you will see comes from our facility.”
Sunfarm Foodservice provides their clients, the Foodbank and our community with a professional and supportive partnership that I hope will only continue to prosper. Special thanks to all of our donors in the Foodbank network who contribute to the operation and success of our organization and its goal to feed hungry people.
Shannon O’Connor is the product sourcing coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.