(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 25)  An organization that serves as a go-between for grower-shippers with excess fruits and vegetables and the charitable organizations that need the food has received an important charity designation from the Internal Revenue Service.

UPDATED: Produce charity receives important tax statusValparaiso, Ind.-based Fresh Hope Produce, which Rick Bella created in 2010, has received final IRS approval determining the charity is exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions made to Fresh Hope are now deductible under the code’s section 170. Fresh Hope can also now accept bequests, devises, transfers and gifts.

The IRS also determined that Fresh Hope is a Public Charity, said Bella, president and chief executive officer. The designations should help in fundraising.

“Certainly, it makes us a more palatable charity to donate to because financial donors can now do the tax deduction,” Bella said. “It’s very important to have that particular designation as a qualified charity.

We have kind of been on hold for the last few months awaiting that status,” he said. “We did a marketing push a few months ago introducing the charity. We plan to move forward with a very robust fundraising program.”

Bella, who spent 10 years as produce coordinator and national produce coordinator for the Chicago-based Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest), said Fresh Hope takes possession of surplus produce to bridge the supply chain gap between growers and the country’s hungry.

He said contributions help lower costs in securing and transporting produce to hundreds of food relief agencies across the U.S. 

Fresh Hope plans to initiate a grower education program to encourage them to donate it fruits and vegetables in transportable containers, Bella said.

The organization’s website ists available produce.

Bella also briefly worked for Oklahoma City-based Feed the Children before that organization closed its seven-member Chicago division.