Ruth’s Gleanings Tackles Food Insecurity During COVID-19This week’s blog is written by Tonja Ruth Smith, Founder/Director, Ruth’s Gleanings In 2020, Mary Black Foundation awarded Ruth’s Gleanings over $200,000 to support their work in increasing healthy food access by rescuing excess fresh produce from local farms and placing it in food pantries, soup kitchens, and mission homes throughout Spartanburg County.
Navigating Healthy Food Access During COVID-19 PandemicIn January of this year, Ruth’s Gleanings celebrated the grand opening of our new food-packing hub in Pacolet, SC. We knew that the increased capacity was needed and would be put to good use to bring more fresh, healthy food to Spartanburg County families in need. In March, the world changed when COVID-19 disrupted life and the food system as we knew it. While restaurants, schools, businesses, and other organizations shut down or scaled back, Ruth’s Gleanings went into overdrive to provide much-needed fresh produce to our FoodShare families and our local food pantries, community centers, and churches. Ruth’s Gleanings empowers people in nutritional poverty by increasing access to fresh, healthy food. We do this through our gleaning program and our FoodShare fresh food box program. When COVID-19 caused farmers and distributors to scramble to place their produce, both of our programs immediately experienced double the demand. With community support we added a part-time logistics coordinator, who outfitted our new pull-behind trailer with refrigeration, allowing further capacity to distribute the thousands of pounds of produce onto thousands of families’ tables.
ProgressFrom February to March, the demand for our FoodShare box doubled from 300 per month to 600 per month, and has continued at these levels into October. These have been distributed through our Northside location at 147 Chapel Street in Spartanburg, and through nine partner sites throughout the county. FoodShare is a healthy fresh produce box that is aggregated and distributed bi-weekly through marketing and sales of the food at wholesale cost. It is geared for low-income and SNAP/EBT participants. Year-to-date we have provided 75,000 pounds of produce through 4100 FoodShare boxes.
Throughout the summer months, our gleaning program participated with the USDA Farmers to Families program. This program was instituted through the CARES Act in order to keep our nation’s food system running, our farmers producing, and our distributors fully staffed. Collaborating with Partners for Active Living (PAL), we formed 18 partnerships with pantries, community centers, and churches to distribute nearly 85,000 pounds of produce to 4700 families in need. That’s $125,000 worth of economic activity in the local food system supplying healthy, fresh food to Upstate families during a time of crisis.