The Freestore Foodbank’s strategic plan includes a renewed focus on improving access to healthy and nutritious food for clients. Our goal is to significantly increase our total produce distribution by over a million pounds in our 2017-2018 fiscal year. We will reach this goal by increasing the amount of produce distributed by partner food pantries and offering mobile produce pantries to partners lacking facilities to offer regular produce distribution.

An important step in this direction has been the creation of the Lower Midwest Regional Produce Cooperative (LMRPC), an alliance between 15 food banks in the region – specifically Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, West Virginia, Missouri and Iowa. The Cooperative, based out of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana aims to collaborate with one another in order to be able to negotiate a lower price from suppliers. Regional cooperatives, led by the food banks in their respective regions, operate one central processing facility that can receive, store and distribute large amounts of produce. By aggregating demand and centralizing the processing facility, the cooperatives will be able to leverage the collective size of all food banks in the region to negotiate better prices for services such as transportation and lower the acquisition cost of produce.

The purchasing power afforded by this collaboration also gives food banks access to a greater variety and larger quantity of products than before. “In the past, Gleaners could not afford to purchase many fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Lauren Watson, Produce Program Manager at Gleaners. “We were severely limited by our budget and there were times when we could afford only potatoes and onions.” This situation has been dramatically altered by the formation of the LMRPC. The members of the Cooperative including Gleaners and the Freestore Foodbank are now able to purchase many different types of fresh fruits and vegetables which were unaffordable in the past. Furthermore, the Cooperative makes it possible for us to accept more produce donations, thereby eliminating food waste throughout the supply chain.

“The recent surge in our supply of fresh produce can be attributed to the formation of this alliance among food banks in the region,” says Randy Miller, Strategic Product Sourcing Manager at the Freestore Foodbank. “Research shows that increasing our intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of many chronic diseases including cancer. Fresh produce is also lower in calories and helps in the fight against obesity among adults and children. Our goal is to increase access to fresh, nutritious food and we are always thinking of new ways to offer our clients healthy meals.”

The idea of collaboration among food banks is gaining traction very quickly. While the concept may not be ideal for large food banks, it is a life-saver for small to medium-sized organizations such as the Freestore Foodbank. “The end result is that we are able to do much more good in the community and help a lot more people,” Randy comments.

The Freestore Foodbank is proud to partner with Gleaners Food Bank and others in the region. We are grateful for the opportunity to use creativity and innovation to extend our reach within the community.