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Walnut Creek Magazine

California Food-Rescue Group Goes Into Overdrive

Apr 06, 2020 06:08PM ● By Pam Kessler

As layoffs continue, restaurant, hotel, and retail workers are in a crisis. Since the coronavirus crisis began, the U.S. hospitality industry has been in free fall. As of last week, nearly 3.4 million direct and indirect jobs had been lost, with California bearing the brunt. Similarly staggering, are the layoff numbers coming out of the retail sector severely impacting a workforce that for the most part, lives paycheck to paycheck. Each day the COVID-19 crisis continues, the demand for free food skyrockets from non-profits like White Pony Express (WPE).

In pre-pandemic times, the food rescue organization in Pleasant Hill picked up 7,000 pounds of surplus fresh food each day from supermarkets and local wholesalers, then delivered it free to community groups, like Loaves & Fishes, Monument Crisis Center, and Trinity Center to feed hungry people. But COVID-19 is pressuring the elderly and poor and demand for WPE’s free food has now gone through the roof.

Last week WPE volunteers rescued an average of 17,000 pounds of fresh food every day. “On three days we processed over ten tons of surplus food each day! This is a tremendous challenge for our volunteers and staff. They are processing more than twice as much food as normal, so eager to help people, they are picking up this food, sorting it, and delivering it,” says WPE’s interim executive director, Isa Campbell.

The food comes primarily from San Francisco Bay Area food distributors who have excess due to restaurant closures. “Starbucks has been a phenomenal partner,” says Campbell, “providing ready-to-eat meals. We’re grateful because we’re getting new calls from groups we haven’t partnered with in the past—homeless shelters, community kitchens, school pantries, churches, and senior residences.  More than ever, they need free deliveries of surplus food to feed the poor, sick, and elderly who are sheltering in place and those without shelter.”

Dr. Carol Weyland Conner, a retired psychologist, launched White Pony express in 2013 when she discovered that supermarkets in her area had surplus food that was going to landfill while many of her less fortunate neighbors lived below the poverty line. She was convinced this food could be used to feed her neighbors, so she organized a corps of volunteers to begin picking it up and delivering it free.

Named by California State Senator Steve Glazer his district’s “Nonprofit of the Year” the volunteer-powered organization is based on the idea “all of us taking care of all of us.” “There is abundance around most of us that can be gathered and shared with those in need. And by connecting the spirit of volunteerism with this abundance, it can really make a difference in people’s lives, says Dr. Conner.

In a little over six years, WPE has rescued and delivered more than 10.5 million pounds of fresh, nutritious food, free of charge—equivalent to 8,750,000 meals prepared. Many charitable programs require diners to travel to a site for their meal. WPE has taken a different approach, trying to deliver food to shelters, kitchens, and seniors very near where they live so they can easily access nutritious meals.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP? White Pony Express is calling on the community to donate money for fuel costs and delivery truck maintenance. Volunteers are needed to sort and deliver food. As for food, WPE can accept food donations from individuals or restaurants. Donors do not have to call WPE in advance, simply drop off donations at 3380 Vincent Road, Pleasant Hill between 11-4pm, seven days a week. (However, food made by individuals cannot be accepted.)

“We know people need this food so much. We’re trying hard to increase our capability to deliver the food available to us. We need another box van, and we’re looking for additional space where we can process all this food while we’re ‘social distancing’. It’s a challenge, and we welcome any help we can get,” says Campbell.  If you’d like to contribute, go to https://www.whiteponyexpress.org/donate.