Dishing It Out With City Harvest

| 03 Jan 2018 | 01:59

As City Harvest starts the new year, the nonprofit can revel in the fact that it delivered roughly 55 million pounds of food to the five boroughs in 2017 alone. Jenny Waxberg, who lives in the Union Square neighborhood, is an integral part of that impressive statistic. As associate director of food sourcing, her job entails procuring tractor-trailer-sized loads of food from across the country, which amounts to around 53 percent of produce in the entire program.

The Connecticut native, who studied nonprofit management at Boston University, joined City Harvest in 2011. Waxberg started her tenure on the local food sourcing team, which coordinates food pickups in the five boroughs, working with 22 trucks that then deliver that food to 500 community food programs across the city.

When asked about an initiative she’s most proud of, she mentions her appointment as lead of the organization’s disaster feeding team in August, just prior to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Under her direction, City Harvest was able to send half-a-million pounds of food and supplies to affected areas.

Explain your position and what a typical day is like for you.On a typical day, we’re working with our food donors, large food manufacturers, wholesalers and also our Feeding America network, the national organization for hunger. And we work with 200 sister food banks across the country to move food that they’re able to source and then we’re able to distribute in New York City because the need is so high here. So my role is a combination of logistics and operations, and also building the relationships with the food banks and also the large network of Feeding America, with their manufacturers and wholesalers.

Give us some examples of places that send you the food. The great member food banks that we work with have been able to provide us with a lot of nutritious food. We work with the Maryland Food Bank to bring in chicken from Perdue. We bring in peanut butter from Second Harvest of South Georgia. And then we also work with the Feeding America network and their farms in their neighborhoods. So we work with Island Harvest on Long Island and their farms to bring in potatoes, cabbage and things like that. We also work with our network members and bring in citrus from Texas and Florida.

What is an initiative you’ve put into place that you’re most proud of?That’s a very timely question. I actually was just appointed as the lead of the disaster feeding team here. I started that role in August, and if you could recall, we were then hit with Hurricane Harvey and then Irma and then Maria. So I was able to work on our team here and we sent almost a half-a-million pounds of food and supplies to the affected areas. We were able to send almost 400,000 pounds to Puerto Rico directly and that was a very impressive initiative by everyone here in addition to working with Feeding America to be able to place the food where it needed to go on the island. Banco de Alimentos in Puerto Rico is one of the 200 sister member food banks, so we had a direct line to the islands to be able to make sure that what we were sending was exactly what they needed. So we sent really great supplies in addition to the food that they wanted. From what I read in a lot of media, was one of the biggest issues of the relief efforts there was that they were getting a lot of things that they didn’t really need, so we wanted to make sure that we were sending exactly what was needed at the time.

Explain the Healthy Neighborhoods programs in low-income areas.The initiative addresses long-term food insecurity through our community partnerships that work to increase access to affordable and wholesome food. The five neighborhoods that we really focus our efforts in are Washington Heights, Northwest Queens, the north shore of Staten Island, Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx. And we really want to make sure that we target our efforts because of the increased rate of obesity and heart disease. One of the initiatives that we really connect on are the City Harvest Fruit Bowl and Mobile Market programs. The Mobile Markets are like free green markets where people are able to access around five different items of fresh produce. We distribute around 20,000 pounds of produce in less than three hours to families in need and that is all without charge. The Fruit Bowl program is where we provide fruit and low-fat dairy to children in afterschool programs. So there’s an education component, but they also have the hands-on approach of being able to taste different fruits.

City Harvest was founded in 1982. Tell us the story of how it all began. The story is that there were potato peels in a restaurant. They were making the famous potato skins. So Helen verDuin Palit [who would become City Harvest’s first executive director] asked, “What are you doing with the inside of the potatoes?” And they were like, “Well, we just throw it out.” So she said, “If we pick up the inside of the potato and bring it to a soup kitchen, are you OK with that?” And they were like, “That’s a great idea.” So of course, the soup kitchen was able to make mashed potatoes and all these other amazing products from the food waste. So that’s where we began our mission of rescuing excess food.

What is your warehouse like in Long Island City?We moved into our food rescue facility in 2012. Before that, we were operating out of rented warehouse space, so it was really great for us to be able to move. It’s 45,000 square feet and we have refrigerated, frozen and dry shelf spacing. So we’re able to move a little over 3 million pounds out of there every month.

What is a heartwarming story of someone you’ve helped?One of our initiatives is being able to rescue food at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. They have something called the Produce Show. And when we were rescuing food there, one of the security guards came up to me and said that he wanted to really thank us and our volunteers for rescuing the produce there because he was a recipient at one point in his life when things weren’t going the way that he had planned. He was having to work multiple shifts a day, but was also a recipient at one of the food pantries that we distribute food to. So that was really a great moment.