Updated: Aug 30, 2019
Every day, usually before the sun is even up, Second Harvest’s small fleet of 10 trucks roll out our gates and across 18 counties of Northwest North Carolina.
Some set out on the highways, traveling through Greensboro and Burlington and Statesville, and some of them turn up winding roads into the mountains, traveling through Wilkesboro on their way to Jefferson or Boone.
Covering an incredible 6,325 miles a week, these trucks and these roads are the cornerstone of our work. Our drivers—Jon Mashack, Greg Atwood, Wayne “Freight” Baker, Robert Branch, J. Lindsay, Malcolm Hairston, Clarence Heninger, David Hommel, and James Whitley—faithfully do their routes, picking up food from 49 grocery stores and 3 distribution centers each week that might otherwise be thrown away. They bring it back to our central warehouses where Jamie Reyes, our forklift operator, unloads the food for inspection by volunteers. “It’s truly amazing how much product this small team can move over 18 counties,” says William Branch, Second Harvest’s Logistics Supervisor. The food moved by this team is how Second Harvest feeds 300,000 people every year.
Hunger in North Carolina has never been an issue of having too little food: It’s always been about access.
But our drivers are doing something else while they are out. As they pick up food from these locations and load it by the box and pallet into their trucks, they are also, when there is room, squeezing in bicycles.
Back at our warehouses in Winston-Salem, a collection of bikes and other ride-on toys are stowed away in a corner throughout the year. That’s because one of our drivers, Robert Branch, happens to have the knack, and heart, to fix them up.
“On this one, I’ll use the seat from that one over there, and I’m looking for better grips on the handlebars,” Robert says, looking over piles of scrapped bicycle parts. His hands are blackened from chain grease, and he wipes them on his jeans. “All of them just need a small amount of something.”
Like the food Second Harvest reclaims, these bikes were mostly bound for the landfill. They are old floor models or bikes that were returned to the retailer because they were broken. But Robert sees in them a lot of promise. As he stands in the chilly warehouse in early December surveying the assortment of handlebars and inner tubes and spokes in front of him, he has already repaired nearly 170 bikes this year. Every year, the Food Bank takes up a collection from staff to help purchase the chain oil and miscellaneous items that Robert needs for the repairs.
“Robert saw a way to make a difference in a unique way, but truly that’s what our drivers do every day,” say Eric Aft, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. “They are the faces of our organization across the communities and in that role they also are uniquely positioned to see what the community has to offer as well as what the needs are.”
“Our entire team has been excited to support Robert, that’s why in lieu of holiday gifts at Second Harvest, we encourage our staff to give to this project,” continues Aft.”This has become our holiday tradition.”
In 2018, thanks to the work of Robert Branch and the rest of the food bank’s drivers, Second Harvest will distribute 185 bikes and riding toys to some of our partner organizations that do holiday distributions to families.
“This simple gesture really goes hand-in-hand with our year-round work,” says food banker James Caldwell, who helps identify partner locations that can distribute the bikes. “Sure our mission is to get healthy, nutritious food to families in Northwest North Carolina, but the bikes seem to fit in: Not only are they in line with our mission of feeding the health of communities, they also speak to our belief that everyone deserves a holiday filled with joy.”