Chief Executive Officer, Second Harvest Heartland
For the one in 10 Minnesotans struggling with hunger, fresh produce is often out of reach whether due to cost or other access barriers. At the same time, millions of pounds of food from grocery store shelves across the state go unused each year. Second Harvest Heartland’s Food Rescue program offers an innovative solution: Partner with local retail grocers to divert food being removed from store shelves to help feed hungry people.
Rob Zeaske, Second Harvest Heartland’s Chief Executive Officer, says the Retail Food Rescue program is the food bank’s fastest-growing food program.
“Fresh and healthy food are becoming increasingly important to our hungry clients,” explained Rob. “One of Second Harvest Heartland’s responses has been to launch Retail Food Rescue, where we partner with more than 350 retail grocers and 75 convenience stores in our communities. Our staff, which includes our dedicated drivers, collects thousands of pounds of produce, dairy, deli meat, bakery, and grocery items each day.”
Last year, participating stores donated 32.5 million pounds of food, which in turn was distributed to Second Harvest Heartland’s agency partners.
“In many cases, our organization has facilitated direct connections between local food shelves and grocery retailers. As a result, more than half of the food we receive today is collected by one of our local agency partners. Thanks to the generosity of our retail partners, and the hardworking efforts of our staff and agency partners, we have been successful in quickly connecting clients to huge quantities of fresh food,” Rob said.
The program is about sourcing and connecting wholesome food to those who need it, but it’s also about getting fresh produce into the emergency food system to improve nutritious food options for those struggling with hunger.
“Here in the United States—and especially here in the breadbasket of the world’s wealthiest nation—don’t we have more than enough food and love to go around? No child, senior, or other neighbor ought to miss out on his or her potential,” Rob shared. “No one should live in fear or embarrassment because he or she can’t find enough food to thrive.”
For Rob, it’s personal. Growing up in a household where caring for neighbors was a priority, food was often the vehicle for compassion. “There was always a soup on the stove or a dessert in the oven for the neighbor who was coming home from the hospital or was going through a tough time. In my house, food was love,” said Rob. “Hunger is our community’s largest solvable problem, and I am motivated to be deeply involved in the solution.”