US Grocery Chain is Buying Food From Farmers to Donate to Food Banks

Publix donated 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk the first week of its new initiative.

May 4, 2020

Farmers in the US are facing a unique challenge. With restaurants and schools closed, growers cannot sell all the ripe produce or milk that is being produced. Some farmers have had to destroy the food that they were unable to sell or give away. Now, the southern US supermarket chain Publix launched a new initiative on April 22, to provide help for struggling farmers and get food to Americans who need it.

The company said, in a press release, that it will support Florida produce growers and southern dairy farmers by buying their excess fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk and to donate them to Feeding America food banks. Publix donated 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk the first week of the new initiative that is expected to run for several weeks.

“As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in the press release. “In this time of uncertainty, we are grateful to be able to help Florida’s produce farmers, southeastern dairies, and families in our communities.”

Food insecurity is a growing problem during this period of school closures and rising unemployment due to the coronavirus. In fact, Feeding America has estimated that an additional 17.1 million people are in need of food.

Thomas Mantz, executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay told the Tampa Bay Times that the organization usually provides 5 million meals a month and now have 400 percent more requests for food. He pointed out that 70 percent of the people asking for help have never needed the services of a food bank before.

Feeding Tampa Bay provides food for local food banks, delivers meals to seniors, and has been providing food for school-aged children since they have been staying home during the coronavirus lock-downs.

“We suddenly had a lot more people that needed food and we suddenly had a lot more food available," Mantz said. That’s why the organization turned to Publix, a company that already partners with them, for help.

With late April and early May being peak growing season in Florida, there was an added sense of urgency to the request. “We have a unique window of a couple of weeks to grab as much produce as we can and get it into households while there’s [the] most need," Mantz said. And Publix rose to the challenge and started the new initiative.

“In addition to providing much needed produce and milk to food banks, this initiative provides financial support to farmers during this challenging time,” Jones said in the Publix press release. “We’re honored to be able to work with these groups and do good together for our communities.”

In addition to the new initiative, Publix has previously made donations that total $2 million to Feeding America’s food banks during the pandemic. The company has given a whopping $2 billion in food to people in need since 2009 and has pledged an additional $2 billion in food donations over the next 10 years.

The need for additional food to feed hungry Americans is far from limited to the southern US. According to the US Labor Department, more than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment during the pandemic and many are still waiting for their first checks. That makes it very hard for people to provide food for their families.

“Within the past month, we have seen an absolute uptick of people that are now furloughed or unemployed," Dr. Jessica Rosati, chief program officer at the Long Island Cares food bank (in New York) told CBS News.

At the same time that demand is up, food banks are facing lower donations of food and funds due to the economic cost of the shutdowns. It is also harder to get excess food from farms to the people in urban areas that need it. This makes the new initiative from Publix even more vital for the people who are in need of food and the farmers who grow it.   

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.