The “what and why” of the Produce Hub:
Normally, a food pantry does only direct client service food distribution. And normally, food banks distribute to food pantries and other direct client service organizations. It’s like the difference between a business to consumer and business to business sales model.
Here a Loudoun Hunger Relief, we have a hybrid model. Due to the richness of produce donations in Loudoun, both from our farms and farmers markets and our grocery store partners, we have an abundance of fresh produce to share. We now distribute fresh produce both through our regular pantry service to our neighbors who need food, and through a “produce hub” model that lets us share produce with other direct service organizations.
Since last summer, 13-15 other direct service organizations have been coming to Loudoun Hunger on Mondays and Tuesdays to pick up produce. They then provide the produce to the people they serve. Members of the hub include smaller food pantries, Loudoun County agencies, and other non-profits providing services direct to those who may be food insecure.
The Loudoun Free Clinic, for example, has created a really innovative program for their diabetic patients using the produce available through the hub. They provide bags of produce to their patients along with healthy recipes. This gives low-income patients access to nutritious produce that otherwise might be beyond their ability to purchase.
The “how” of the Produce Hub:
Loudoun Hunger picks up produce from grocery store partners, farms and farmers markets. We bring the produce back to our Leesburg pantry location. Fresh from the farm produce gets stored in one of our two large chillers—one is a converted freight container that has been climate controlled, the other is a walk in refrigerator. Produce that’s coming in from the farmers markets or grocery stores, which may have limited shelf life, is sorted by special teams of volunteers each weekday afternoon.
The great produce we get in then goes out in our market room for our clients to choose from. It also is available to our produce hub partners to take what they need for the people they serve.
Some special thanks goes out to our farm suppliers, JK Community Farm, the Piedmont Environmental Council’s Community Farm at Roundabout Meadows, and the Loudoun Valley HomeGrown Markets Cooperative. We want to thank the Dominion Foundation for the funding that enabled us to purchase our large freight container chiller, and Southern Electrical Services for their pro-bono work in adding the needed electrical service to the chiller. Thanks go out to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank for a grant that provided our produce dedicated walk in refrigerator. And 100WomenStrong gets a shout out for some of the funds that allowed us to purchase two new refrigerated vans a couple of years ago. All of this makes our fresh produce possible.
We’re so happy to be able to offer the Produce Hub as a service to our community.