HOUSTON — As the Houston Food Bank prepares to move to its newly renovated facility this month, the organization is gearing up for a whole new way of looking at food distribution.
Gone are the days of relying on boxes of shelf-stable center-store foods for the bulk of distributions, said Brian Greene, president and chief executive officer.
Greene and the Houston Food Bank believe the greatest opportunities lie in refrigerated foods, particularly produce. The supply is there, he said.
“Perishable food is our No.1 potential source,” he said July 13. “In 2009, 3.4 billion pounds of produce was grown but not harvested and 3.3 billion pounds was harvested but not sold.”
The problem is, Greene said, that most food banks and member agencies don’t have the infrastructure to distribute it to end users.
“Ninety-five percent of the people who receive food from the food bank have a refrigerator,” he said. “That’s not the problem.”
When the food bank moves to its new home in eastern Houston, a former Sysco facility, its warehousing space will quadruple — from just over 70,000 square feet to 298,000 square feet.
That warehouse space includes three cold rooms for refrigerated foods like produce, in addition to freezer space. It also includes vast work spaces for volunteers to work produce, which was not feasible at the previous location.
Repacking bulk produce, culling and gleaning all are possible in a new cooled clean room, where the cold chain can be properly maintained.
Houston already distributes about 16 million pounds of produce annually. Greene said he hopes to double that in the next few years.
The move cost a total of $55 million, including $22 million to purchase the site from Sysco, Greene said. Sysco donated $5 million toward that cause.
The remaining $20 million was raised quickly, despite the recession. Donors saw the value of increasing perishable food capacity and were quick to sign on, Greene said.
The organization has planned a grand opening event Sept. 23.