By David Bobanick, Mercer Island Rotary Club, Washington, USA; Chair of the Hunger & Malnutrition Rotarian Action Group; Executive Director of Rotary First Harvest
Since joining Rotary First Harvest – a program of Rotary District 5030 (USA) in 2001, I have had the unique opportunity to help expand this program’s strategic impact at the local and national level. Through the dedicated efforts of hundreds of monthly volunteers, we’ve been able to quadruple the amount of produce collected and distributed annually. With the dual goal of reducing hunger and food waste, Rotary First Harvest connects farmers, truckers, food bank and volunteers to reduce hunger-related malnutrition.
Hybrid strategies to meet community needs
Rotary First Harvest works on two levels – one large scale and one local – to divert millions of pounds of fruits and vegetables from food waste to the hands of those in need. At each level, Rotary members play a crucial role in connecting existing resources within their community:
- Core work: First, we find truckload-sized donations at large growers and packing houses. Next, we locate donated trucking to haul the produce to a distribution center where it is shared with local hunger relief programs. At each stage, Rotarians and Rotarian-owned businesses are directly involved.
- Harvest Against Hunger: To capture smaller donations from small and mid-size farms, Rotary First Harvest created a program that places AmeriCorps*VISTA (similar to Peace Corps) members in smaller communities. Those VISTA then connect local farms and gardens with hunger programs and volunteer groups to create thriving produce recovery programs. Through these partnerships, deep and sustainable connections are made that will deliver fresh produce to those in need well into the future.
Connecting and Collaborating
Rotary First Harvest is highly collaborative. We don’t duplicate services or resources. Instead, we find innovative ways to connect or improve existing efforts. We firmly believe in using our resources to transform the weakest link in the food chain into the strongest.
Twice a month, Rotarians from across District 5030 invite friends and family to help repack some of the millions of pounds of apples, potatoes, carrots, peas and other items Rotary First Harvest receives in bulk. These work parties serve as a simple yet powerful example of Rotary activity in our community.
The Power of Rotary
Like any Rotary project, Rotary First Harvest started with one Rotarian (Norm Hillis) with a great idea for how to help others. Other Rotarians then provided their resources and expertise to help the idea grow and flourish. It’s a simple formula that continues to improve lives each and every day.
World Food Day is 16 October. Participate in a Rotary Twitter Chat with leading foodbanking and anti-hunger organizations, including Rotary First Harvest. Sign on to Twitter from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM Chicago time (UTC-5) and search for the hashtag #RotaryHunger