In the United States today, 1 in 8 people struggles with food insecurity. In Central New York, that number is even higher: 1 in 7. Fortunately, Food Bank of Central New York (FBCNY) is working to change that. The nonprofit organization partners with over 300 emergency food programs (shelters, soup kitchens, and pantries) across 11 counties in central New York to feed hungry families, children, and elderly.
Product Donations Manager at FBCNY, former chef, and food educator Peter Ricardo helps orchestrate the food donations ultimately connecting to the people who need them most. Ricardo has been working with FBCNY as the Product Donations Manager for 13 years. He loves it. “It’s serendipity that I found this place,” he says. “It’s a perfect fit.”
Distributing fresh foods to rural and distant communities is no easy feat — it takes both diligence and careful planning. It’s not uncommon for Ricardo to build a relationship with a donor for a year or more until the donation finally comes in. And it can be difficult to predict exactly when that will happen. “Finding and connecting that food to pantries is a wonderful thing,” he says. “But the most frustrating day is when you access food in greater amounts than can be distributed in our service area or within the product’s usable shelf life.”
Naturally, he never wants to turn down a donation just because there’s nowhere to store it. In the past, FBCNY partnered with other food banks and off-site storage to hold the food so it wouldn’t go to waste.
But Ricardo wanted a solution that would empower pantries to collect and store food on their own. Specifically, he wanted something that was simple and mobile. He heard about the CoolBot from a small vegetable grower and decided to give it a try.
Crucial support to cover the project costs came in the form of a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. A second key partner was found in Arctic Vans, a company in Pennsylvania that custom fits vehicles to accommodate refrigeration systems. Although the budget was tight and they had no prior experience with the CoolBot, they were willing to give it a try!
The result? Three 16-foot trailers successfully outfitted with a dual CoolBot and an air conditioner system. Because of the coolers’ manageable size, anyone with an appropriately sized truck or SUV can easily tow them. Not only that, but the cost savings was huge compared to the other options on the market. “Using the CoolBot and air conditioner saved us $7,000 per unit compared to traditional cold storage,” Ricardo says.
How’s it working? So far so good! “Right after we got the coolers, we successfully moved 7,500 lbs of fresh and frozen food to 300 individuals,” says Ricardo. “It changed the nutrition content of that distribution dramatically. It’s absolutely wonderful because the best food for people tends to be the most expensive and the least stable, requiring refrigeration. And now, we can provide more healthy food to the communities that depend on us.”
We’re very humbled to play a small role in the FBCNY mission to eliminate hunger throughout Central New York. Learn more about the Food Bank of Central New York Mission by checking out their website, and consider making a donation to support those experiencing food insecurity. Ricardo will also be running an educational session about the mobile CoolBot refrigerated storage units at the national Feeding America conference in Atlanta on August 13, 2017.