John Gates (left), president of Lancaster Foods, and Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, attended a donation drop off of 1,000 bags of apples in Alexandria, Va., on April 4. Lancaster Foods was the first recipient of a United Fresh Start Foundation program to encourage fresh produce donations during the COVID-19 crisis. ( Courtesy United Fresh Produce Association )

The United Fresh Start Foundation has started a new program to increase access to fresh produce for children and families, while creating opportunities for foodservice distributors during the COVID-19 crisis.

The COVID-19 Rapid Response FRESH Grants program will give 25 $1,000 grants to produce companies and foodservice distributors who will donate fresh fruits and vegetables to schools, community organizations and other emergency sites for food distribution during the crisis.

Lisa McNeece, foundation chairwoman and vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Grimmway Enterprises Inc., said there are two interconnected needs in the U.S., with children out of school and adults out of work.

“We need to make sure they have access to fresh produce through remote feeding sites or community programs,” McNeece said in the release. “And at the same time, our foodservice distributors have been devasted by the immediate shutdown of their markets. This is an attempt to inspire our greater industry to recognize both needs and do what we can to help.”

The program is funded through prepaid registrations to the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual conference and expo, which has been recast as a virtual event, United Fresh LIVE! 2020. Registration to the online events and virtual expo is free.

The foundation is also accepting donations from individuals and companies to ensure children are receiving access to fresh produce during the crisis.

Grant applications are online, and United Fresh asks that the produce donations are made as soon as possible.

Lancaster Foods, Jessup, Md., received the first grant, to support a donation of 1,000 3-pound bags of apples to the ALIVE feeding program in Alexandria, Va., on April 4. Lancaster Foods CEO John Gates and United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel were on hand at the donation.

“I thank John and the Lancaster team for going above and beyond to help our community,” Stenzel said. “And, for me personally, this feeds my own neighbors in need.”

For more stories on the crisis, see The Packer's COVID-19 landing page.

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