In 1989, Tampa Bay Harvest had one food donor, one recipient and a handful of volunteers. Now, over 600 volunteers ferry over 2.5 million pounds of food from 521 donors to over 200 agencies each year. There are no offices, no warehouses and only one paid position.
That's Will Carey, Tampa Bay Harvest's executive director and former director of food services for the Bay area Salvation Army. "We're like a middleman," explains Carey, who coordinates a streamlined system by which volunteers can pick up and drop off food locally, usually on their way to or from work. That saves money and manpower for the recipient agencies and frees Harvest from the need to raise funds to support an infrastructure.
Tampa Bay Harvest is unique in that it works with restaurants and other food service providers — like Pinellas area schools — to rescue foods that would otherwise be discarded.
"We're the only agency in the area that does recovery of perishable foods," says Carey.
He provides gallon Ziploc bags to all of the regular donors, who bag, seal and freeze or refrigerate any servable food that they would otherwise have trashed at the end of the day. Either daily or weekly, Harvest volunteers pick up those bags and deliver them to agencies that can make use of the perishable items.
This year, Carey has also started pushing canned food drives into unusual markets, working with apartment complexes and smaller businesses to compensate for a decline is giving.
"In the past, if we picked up a ton of food on a canned food drive, now it's three quarters of a ton," he says. "If an office has more than six or seven people, I'll set up a barrel and start a drive."
Carey also feels that hunger has, in some ways, become subsumed into other issues.
"Hunger gets wrapped up into everything else," he says, "but hunger is not homelessness, it's not the economy."
Because of that, he finds that it's easier to raise money than to collect food. "But, that's not what we do."