I had the chance to chat on Jan. 14 with Rick Bella, president and chief executive officer of Fresh Hope Produce, Valparaiso, Ind.
Bella in 2010 legally established Fresh Hope Produce, a charity designed to distribute surplus fruits and vegetables to hunger relief charities and food banks. Bella spent ten years at Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest) from 1999 to 2009 and then briefly worked for Oklahoma City-based Feed the Children before that group closed its seven-member Chicago division.
3:00 p.m. Karst: I liked the look of your website. Tell me about Fresh Hope Produce and what you are trying to accomplish.
3:01 p.m. Bella: We just got it launched last week. I want the website to be informative and also functional for hunger relief agencies to come there, get information about produce that is available, what the costs are to them and how they can participate.
3:02 p.m. Karst: Do you have a certain network of agencies identified?
3:02 p.m. Bella: I want to have a broad net, so I'm going to send out invitation letters to mega-churches around the country, hunger relief charities of any type and also to food banks across the country. Feeding America works with about 200 food banks around the country, but there is a lot more than that. There is probably another 150 or so of similar-sized food banks. I want to reach out to all of those too. This is a way to expand the program that I really started 10 years ago. I look at this as going to the next level, to offer produce to 50,000 different charities in partial truckloads, shared loads and to offer produce to other nontraditional feeding areas like the churches.
3:04 p.m. Karst: How does putting together this charity look on your end? Obviously, a lot of knowledge and intelligence about how the industry works. How do you connect all the dots when you are creating something like this?
3:05 p.m. Bella: I've been working with a number of growers and shippers who would like to participate and some have actually funded the formation of the website, with expenses paid for by anonymous donors. They just feel that they always have surplus produce for a variety of reasons, weather-related or market-related. There is always extra produce — it is just the way we grow product in America. We are always going to have that. They of course view this as an outlet and a way to do something good with their surplus produce.