Charlotte Food Bank broadens menu

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In December, when it opened a Charlotte sales office, Maryland-based NavTrak was looking for a local charity with a transportation fleet that could benefit from its satellite-positioning technology that helps track vehicles.

The company eventually donated one of its systems to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, which expects greater efficiencies because it now can monitor its trucks’ speed and maintenance schedules, route them more effectively, and pinpoint their locations.

And when it gets a phone call from a donor with available food, the Food Bank can send its nearest truck to pick up the donation.

“In our business, donor service is very important,” says Kay Carter, executive director.

And business at the Food Bank has been growing.

Formed in 1981, the nonprofit last year distributed nearly 16 million pounds of food and other grocery products to nearly 550 partner agencies that feed an estimated 95,000 to 100,000 people a month in 16 counties, including two in South Carolina.

The value of those goods, up from 7.2 million pounds the food bank distributed in 1999, totaled over $23.8 million.

“We measure our success in the amount of food we can distribute, and in the number of people we can feed,” Carter says. “So any savings we incur by becoming more efficient are savings we can take and plow back into feeding more people.”
Efficiencies are particularly critical, she says, in the face of rising fuel costs and growing demand from soup kitchens, food pantries and other social-service agencies for food to feed hungry people.

With an annual budget of $3 million and over 30 employees, most of them full-time, and with 2,300 hours a month donated by volunteers, the Food Bank has been growing steadily.

The Food Bank, for example:

* Merged last year with Community Food Rescue, a nonprofit that rescues perishable food from produce distributors, retail stores, restaurants and dairies, and delivers it the same day to homeless shelters and other agencies that feed hungry people.

* Operates a “mobile-pantry” truck that makes two to three trips a week in most of the counties the Food Bank serves, mainly in rural areas with high poverty rates, and likely will deliver 1 million pounds of food this year.

* Runs Kids Cafés at 21 sites in eight counties, typically located at agencies that together serve more than 1,000 at-risk children a month, providing nutritious meals and snacks.

* Works with existing Kids Café sites and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to provide a backpack of food for 600 children in two counties who may be at risk of hunger over the weekend, and plans to expand to at least six counties by July 2007.

* Delivers a box of ready-to-eat groceries once a month to 400 home-bound elderly served by its partner agencies in York and Lancaster counties in South Carolina, and hopes to expand soon to Lincoln County.

“What we’re trying to do is incrementally expand these programs,” says Carter.

And the tracking system donated by NavTrak, with devices installed for free in each of the Food Bank’s 12 trucks and vans by Wireless Communications, can only help, she says.

“It will save money,” she says, “which means we can feed more people.”

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