Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Mebane, North Carolina
Today, Robert Branch is wearing his food bank cap and driving his truck east on 1-40, classic rock playing quietly on the radio as he rolls along. His destination today is the Walmart Distribution Center in Mebane, a massive 450,000-square-foot center that distributes perishable food to more than 55 Walmart stores in North Carolina and Virginia. “It’s basically the biggest refrigerator you will ever see,” says Branch.
Once there, Branch skillfully backs the Second Harvest truck up to the loading bay. He does this effortlessly, showing his years of experience as a truck driver, and then heads inside.
Large pallets of fresh vegetables and meats are stacked near the bay where the Second Harvest truck sits, labeled with stickers that read “Charity.” Quickly, Walmart employees, wearing winter-wear inside even though it is 85 degrees outside, use forklifts to load up the truck with pallets of asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, bacon, and yogurt. Branch watches, marking hash marks on his clipboard.
Finally, a large pallet of grapes is added to the back. The trailer is so full that the door will only just close.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
“This has made a huge difference in the quality and health of the food we can distribute,” says Eric Aft, Second Harvest’s CEO. “The problem of hunger in our communities is not so much a shortage of calories as it is a shortage of resources to secure more nutrient-rich options. People who are struggling financially are, understandably, often more concerned with quantity than quality.”
The food bank team loads the food from Walmart into large walk-in coolers. Soon, volunteers from Second Harvest’s large network of food pantries are coming in to fill their carts with the produce. An older gentleman from a food pantry in Wilkes County opens up a box of grapes and looks inside. Nodding, he reseals it and puts in on his cart.
“It’s very neat to think of how far those grapes will travel,” remarks Jenny Moore, Second Harvest’s Sr. Communications and PR Manager. “From the donor to the food bank to a food pantry or backpack program to someone’s home and table. It takes a lot of work and a lot of people who care to make it happen.”
Northwest North Carolina
460 partner programs throughout 18 counties, and those grapes could end up at any one of them.
Second Harvest has been moving food across Northwest North Carolina for over 35 years. It is important work, as food insecurity and poverty remain consistent problems for the region. Increasingly, however, the food bank has been making the connections between hunger and health: We know that communities facing food insecurity are also facing diet-related illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
“At Second Harvest,” explains Aft. “We believe not only that everyone deserves to eat, but that everyone deserves to be able to access fresh, healthy foods to support a well-balanced diet and good health.”
From having nutrition professionals on staff, to working with health care professionals focusing in on food security as a major component of community health, to advocating for food and anti-poverty policies that will help Northwest North Carolina families who are struggling to make ends meet, Second Harvest takes nutrition very seriously.
The backbone of our work, however, is the fresh food in this cooler. Healthy, nutritious food must make it to the kitchen tables of families in need and it needs to get there today. The partnerships that Second Harvest has with grocery retailers like Walmart ensure that we have high-quality and nutritionally dense food, and Branch, Reyes, and the rest of the team at the food bank makes sure it gets to the thousands of our neighbors who need it.
(Pictured in story: Top, Jaime Reyes Flores operates a forklift at Second Harvest, Middle, Robert Branch pulls produce into the warehouse at the food bank, Bottom, Jocelyn Ortiz, of Second Harvest’s Childhoood Hunger Programs team in the food bank’s cooler)