PHILADELPHIA — A food bank that specializes in fresh produce is adding a packing line to provide more surplus food throughout the East Coast.
The new line helps Philabundance expand its acquisition and distribution of New Jersey-grown peaches and other northeastern tree fruit.
The hunger relief agency soon plans to begin installing the packing line in an attached building the organization acquired last year. The building, formerly used by the Thomas Colace Co., is located across the street from the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market.
Philabundance plans to gut the facility’s older refrigeration system and install new refrigeration technology, giving the operation’s headquarters the ability to store its produce in one large refrigeration box. The change will double Philabundance’s refrigeration capacity.
Last year, Philabundance accepted a limited amount of peaches but the new facility and packing line expansion should help significantly increase the amount of fresh produce it can handle, said Bill Clark, president and executive director.
“We are becoming more of the produce handling experts for the food bank world of the East Coast,” Clark said. “We are moving more and more into south Jersey and working with farmers and the packinghouses to glean crops. With this new facility, we will have the ability to mobilize our volunteers and take the farm bins and repack them into bushel boxes that we can better move around our distribution system.”
Although they didn’t meet commercial grades, a high percentage of culls Philabundance receives from Eastern Propak LLC, Glassboro, N.J., remained edible and usable for feeding the hungry, Clark said.
Relying on excess commercial packinghouse capacity to repack the peaches proved difficult during the peak of the season when packing lines were busy with activity, Clark said.
Emily Teel, Philabundance’s food donation manager, said the organization met with Propak to determine how to best handle discards from the packinghouse’s New Jersey and imported fruit.
“It was troubling to them because they were accruing a lot of product that didn’t meet their size or appearance standards and there wasn’t a way of managing all of that fruit that was going into a waste stream,” she said. “It was distressing for them to see that much good fruit going to waste even as they heard reports of a troubled economy and people struggling in their communities.”
Volunteers have also helped repack cider grade apples for fresh food distribution.
Philabundance, which plans to open the new operation by February, distributes fresh produce and other food to food banks throughout the East Coast including to New York, Long Island, Staten Island, Pittsburgh, Virginia and South Carolina.