Food recycling program fights hunger, reduces waste, changes lives

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Loaves & Fishes rescues food to feed Greenville's hungry population. Photo by Will Crooks.

Last year, 2.3 million pounds of quality food was diverted from landfills and instead fed about 362,000 people in Greenville.

Nonprofit Loaves & Fishes “rescued” that food to deliver to nearly 100 soup kitchens, churches, and after-school and feeding programs — all for free.

Loaves & Fishes picks up good, untouched food from wholesale grocers and restaurants. Development manager Breean O’Neill says that most “ugly” or bruised produce will be tossed before customers even see it due to overproduction in America. For example, a whole pallet will be thrown out due to one bunch of bad bananas, she says.

With only four drivers, Loaves & Fishes delivers food to agencies all over Greenville County. Photo by Will Crooks.

The fresh produce, dairy products, canned goods, frozen meats, prepared foods, bread, and bakery items rescued daily by Loaves & Fishes feeds some of the 687,880 people facing hunger in South Carolina.

“We try to think about it as ‘would we want it given to us?’” O’Neill says. “Just because somebody is in a less fortunate situation than us doesn’t mean they deserve less.”

Feeding the Hungry 

Greenville’s Project Host soup kitchen and evening meal programs utilize rescued food to feed about 150 people daily.

Nearly 30 percent of Project Host’s food comes from Loaves & Fishes. “That makes a big difference in the amount of people we can feed,” Executive Director Sally Green says.

Longtime soup kitchen clients Leon and Cassandra say that now the food is healthier and better. Cassandra comes for the good food and fellowship. 

“I started out because at one point in time I was homeless, and thanks to [Green] she got me on the right track and everything,” she says.

Improving Health

Greenville Free Medical Clinic hosts minimarkets every Thursday for community members to fill bags with fruits, vegetables, and more for free.

“So when [patients] leave, they have their orders for blood tests, their next visit scheduled, their medicines, and they might even have a bag or two of groceries,” Executive Director Suzie Foley says.

Community members can visit Greenville Free Medical Center’s minimarkets for fresh produce and more. Photo by Will Crooks.

For many people, eating healthy is a luxury they can’t afford. “There’s not likely to be behavior change unless there’s access and education,” Foley says of healthy habits.

Through 200 to 500 pounds of food delivered weekly by Loaves & Fishes, clinic visitors can make food choices that improve issues with weight, diabetes, and heart disease — leading to a longer, healthier life.

Giving Hope

Miracle Hill Ministries receives up to 330,000 pounds of food annually from Loaves & Fishes to help create 382,000 meals for shelter guests and food boxes for community members.

Rather than rotting in landfills, quality produce is rescued to be given to others. Photo by Will Crooks.

“Their dedication to go out and rescue food … helps us be able to serve broken people in shelters, our addiction recovery programs, and our children’s facilities,” says Ryan Duerk, vice president of adult ministries and food warehouse manager.

People recovering from homelessness or addictions need nutritious meals to become healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually, Duerk says.

Resident intern Young Jin Ghun calls Loaves & Fishes’ workers “little food angels” who deliver delicious food. “One of the ways we definitely bond at the Overcomers Center is over food and over the love in the kitchen,” he says.

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