Farms to Food Banks – First Post

Originally posted to LinkedIn by Co-Founder John Botti.

This is my first post (ever) on any form of social media. I have been saving it for a moment that really matters. That moment is now.

I watched ABC World News Tonight with David Muir (@DavidMuir) this past Tuesday April 14th and was deeply moved. I saw the stark juxtaposition of American farmers having their vegetable crops go to waste due to supply chain disruption and economic collapse, while other Americans are on the brink of starvation due to food banks being overwhelmed and undersupplied.

The Dire Need

Our home State of New York and the Boroughs of New York City have disproportionately borne the economic, health, and social welfare brunt of COVID-19.  Many New Yorkers are very sick, out of work, have depleted their savings, and are in dire need of feeding their families to survive.

One of the poorest districts in the United States is the South Bronx (38% of their community lives at or below the Federal poverty line – 49% of children).  East Side House Settlement (ESHS) has been effectively serving this community for the past 125 years. Executive Director Daniel Diaz informed us that they need food to feed more than 5,000 families in his community immediately.

This is a problem that we can help solve together, right now. And I invite you to help.

Within the next 48 hours, a group of my friends will have mobilized a bootstrapped effort to transport food from farmers to food banks in the NY area.  This amazing group has been creative and resourceful and is making an immediate difference.

What we have done so far:

Procured the produce

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (@NYGovCuomo) COVID-19 email highlighted how food providers are dealing with excess crops due to pandemic-related restaurant closures. To make sure their crops don’t go to waste, Cranney Farms in Idaho gave away 2 million potatoes on a first-come, first-served basis.

My friend Eric Wittenberg, who has been supporting the East Side House Settlement non-profit for years, made contact with Ryan Cranney in Idaho.  His generous offer of 2 million free potatoes had already been picked up by many deserving food banks and individuals out West.  We were a day too late.  But nonetheless, we purchased a full trailer load of 43,000 pounds of pre-washed and boxed potatoes from Cranney Farms storage facility in Idaho at wholesale pricing.

Donated Refrigerated Transportation

My close friend Marc Kramer owns SOAR Transportation Group, a refrigerated trucking company based in Salt Lake City Utah. I asked Marc if he could help and he immediately responded “Yes.”  Marc and SOAR’s CEO Cody Isaacson have generously offered to transport our donated and wholesale purchased farm produce in their refrigerated tractor trailers from Idaho to the South Bronx.  SOAR is completely covering the drivers’ wages, fuel costs, and trucks to make THREE full trailer deliveries.  Our first trailer is loading up this morning at 9am in Rupert, Idaho and will arrive 5 days later in the South Bronx.  SOAR’s driver is Dave Lemon who is a US Veteran and one of the many incredible people out there sacrificing to keep our country moving.

Began Building Momentum

Cody contacted the Head of Welfare Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. They are already working on a number of shipments going into NY and NJ next week. Since SOAR will provide the free transportation, the LDS Church is contributing a full trailer of food (43,000 pounds) to families in the South Bronx. Products they will be able to assist with include dairy products, cheese, dry goods, pasta, potentially rice and beans.  Our second trailer will depart Tuesday or Wednesday and arrive five days later.  Dan Diaz and dozens of ESHS staff and volunteers will eagerly unload and distribute the food to four local distribution centers.

Eric’s friend donated 2,000 PPE masks and gloves and already shipped to ESHS.  My volunteer friends Bill Mehleisen and Chris Weeks are calling farmers, raising funds, and organizing logistics.  We are building our team.

In short:

–       $8,650 raised… and counting

–       A 43,000 pound truckload of donated food

–       Donation of three SOAR refrigerated tractor trailers with drivers and fuel costs

–       Hundreds of people and 4 organizations mobilized… and counting

–       2,000 families of four will be fed for 20 days

–       Over 2,000 donated PPE masks and gloves for the unloaders and volunteers to wear

But this isn’t enough. There are more families throughout New York who are being turned away from food banks empty handed because the shelves are bare.

Here’s how you can help:

Reach out to your networks, like I am doing right now.  You will be surprised by the resourcefulness of your network.  The specific needs are:

  1. Help raise money for our effort.  Any amount helps.  We started a GoFundMe to raise capital needed for food, fuel and driver costs.
  2. Find farmers that have produce to donate or partially discount. Contact me.
  3. Spread the word. Contribute your talents and efforts to spread this effort. Share this post. Contact me to join us.

Together we can help bring food to our neighbors in desperate need.

I would like to offer you some of my parting thoughts:

What if, our social distancing were to bring us “closer” together as a community?

What if, we adapt and become more resilient and resourceful by supporting our farmers and also feeding our most vulnerable?

What if, our acts of compassion, love and kindness light candles in this darkness and impact our lives as much as we impact those of others?

Let’s create our own silver lining from this crisis and take action now.

Please reach out to me and let me know how you can help.

With gratitude,