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A representative from a St. Louis Area Foodbank partner agency loads donated Target product, inlcuding two bicycles, into their van / Photo by Shannon O’ Connor

I’m a finicky shopper, just like everyone else.

If I see a dented can of green beans on a grocery aisle, I’m probably not going to pick it up and throw it in my cart. I’ll reach out and grab a can that hasn’t been dropped by a rambunctious toddler.

When I choose a tomato or cantaloupe, I’m probably not going to go straight for the one that has a funny spot on it.

Even thought I logically realize that the spotted fruit is just as good as the spotless tomato right next to it, I’m still going to choose the shiniest, prettiest piece of fruit I can find.

Like me, I’m sure you have wondered what happens to all that “unchosen” food? What happens to the lonely dented cans, the misshapen fruit and the bread that is past one day old?

If customers don’t buy it, and the stores need to clear their shelves to make more room for new items, where does all that stuff go? It’s still good, high-quality food!

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Fortunately for the families we serve, many local stores donate that food to the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

Here, we provide a temporary home to those ugly tomatoes and dented cans. And within a few days, we send it out to hungry families right here in the bi-state region.

Across the country, Feeding America and its affiliated Foodbanks partner with major grocery chains such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, SuperValu and Target.

The St. Louis Area Foodbank alone receives nearly 14 million pounds of donated product each year; 3.7 million of which comes directly from these retail/wholesale donors.

Canned goods, fresh produce, bread, dairy and meat come in every week from 114 individual stores right here in our region!

For example, Target has 22 committed locations which provide us with not just high quality meat and produce, but also essential home goods and personal care items.  So far this year, Target has donated more than 266,000 pounds.

It takes a team effort to get that unsold food from the stores to the Foodbank, and we truly appreciate every store employee who helps make it happen.

One top store that not only presents high donation numbers, but also provides a great mixture of items for our needy families is Target Bridgeton.  Since 2008, the enthusiastic team at Target Bridgeton has helped provide a high quality mix of nutritious food for the 261,000 people we serve every year!

So far this year, they have already donated more than 21,000 pounds.

This week I had the opportunity to accompany Foodbank driver Denise Daugherty as she made her routine pickup at this store.

The store’s receiving manager, Laura Vitale, greeted us at the door.  Laura has worked at Target for 30 years, and had great positive feedback about our partnership.

We did a brief Q & A:

Foodbank: Has a customer ever asked you what Target does with its unsellable items?  If so, what was your response?

Vitale: Absolutely.  I have been asked in the past as well as recently and of course explained that we donate to the St. Louis Area Foodbank.  I provide them with a brief explanation of how the program works.

Foodbank: Among the different categories Target is encouraged to donate from, which do you see the most donations?

Vitale: Well we obviously give more produce since the start of the PFresh program at the store.  Meat items have been increasing as well, due to updates in guidelines and the systematic and timely manner to pull product ready for donation and how to store it until you guys come pick it up.  Overall, I would say each category is showing growth due to the aggressive steps taken by our consumables manager to get each department on board, as well as myself going through the product and organizing it in the warehouse.

Foodbank:  Please detail the donation process.

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Vitale: Our department team leaders communicate well in making sure that any potentially donated product is pulled properly from shelves, stored in the right spot, and then sent to me or to customer service, depending on the type of item.  The paper and personal care (or nonfood) items are usually directed to customer service and then processed by me in receiving.  A driver from the St. Louis Area Foodbank picks up from this location Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week.  When the driver calls to notify me of her arrival time, I contact the departments to have them bring their donations to the warehouse.  The items are separated on pallets by product category.  The driver loads up the truck and signs off for the donation.  It goes smoothly each time.  The donations are taken to your facility and then I know distributed to the agencies.

Foodbank: What is the strangest or most unique donation you have given to us that you recall?

Vitale: That is hard to say.  I like to be sure that any item that fits within our guidelines but is still usable or eatable be given to your organization.  However, I would have to say that some of the most unusual items fit under the nonfood category such as today’s BBQ grill we are giving you or the bikes we have given in the past.  Nothing is particularly wrong with these items but they are considered “damaged” or “donated” due to a dent or chipped paint for example.  I know that someone can fix and find use for these items so there is no sense in wasting them.

Foodbank: What is your favorite part about the donation process and what stands out about the Foodbank?

Vitale: I feel proud that Target helps contribute to serving those less fortunate.  I feel proud that I helped to provide something that a family may need and was not otherwise able to pay for on their own.  Also personal care items such as shampoos are important for the individuals to get since food stamps do not always cover such needs.  The St. Louis Area Foodbank works well with Target.  The drivers are consistently prompt, helpful, and provide great attitudes.  Your organization allows us to make use of unsellable items and answers any questions we may have about donations.

The St. Louis Area Foodbank is honored to partner with Target, as well as other retail companies in our service area.  We value the donations given through this program and hope to encourage those retailers and/or wholesalers not already affiliated to please contact us.  We would be happy to work with others in the area and make it easier for stores to operate and minimize waste.

For all the consumers out there, feel free to contact us with any local stores you frequent that may not be donating to an organization such as the Foodbank.

And don’t feel too guilty about not buying that misshapen cantaloupe! It’s getting eaten!

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Shannon O’Connor is the product solicitation coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank