Fresh Hope Produce Works to End Hunger

By: Rick Bella Last Updated: February 4, 2011

Fresh-Hope-ProduceToday, Fresh Hope Produce announced the launch of their website and charity operations. The website, named http://www.freshhopeproduce.org is now operational providing information about hunger in America and how other non-profits can utilize the services. Fresh Hope Produce is a non-profit formed to secure and make available America’s surplus of fresh fruits and vegetables and distribute them to America’s hunger relief charities and food banks across the United States.

Our vision is to bridge the supply chain gap between America’s surplus of fresh-grown fruits and vegetables and America’s hungry,” said Rick Bella, the charities President and CEO. “It is my belief that there is enough food grown in this country to eliminate hunger,” he added. Bella is a native to the Merrillville, Indiana area and is a graduate of Merrillville High School and alumni of Indiana University in Bloomington. He was born in Gary, and then moved to Merrillville with his family in 1959.

Bella is not new to the produce industry, cutting his teeth in retail produce operations for years as well as running a produce division for Roundy’s in Westville, Indiana and directing produce, bakery and deli operations for Fairplay Foods, a south side Chicago supermarket chain. He has worked at familiar local grocers like Wise Way Food World, Key Markets, Town and Country Markets, and Wilco Foods. He left the traditional retail/wholesale world to join Feeding America in 1999, at that time called Second Harvest where he built the charities first national produce program from the ground up into a 100-million pound per year program. He left Feeding America to join Feed the Children (FTC) in 2009, but the elimination of the Chicago office by FTC left him and seven co-workers out of a job during some of the toughest economic times in America last April of 2010.

Fresh Hope Produce (FHP) obtained anonymous funding to start the charity last year and in July of 2010, FHP obtained legal status as a non-profit corporation and started the process for 501(c)(3) federal tax designation. The goal is to provide a shopping list of fresh produce to any non-profit organization who would like to provide fresh, nutritious produce to those in need, not only hunger relief charities, but also to churches, social groups and any non-profit organization who may have an interest in providing nutritious food while taking advantage of America’s abundance. Interested charities can sign up to become an agency partner of FHP on the website. Some follow up conversations will take place and once approved, an agency can place orders for fresh produce on the FHP website by signing in and viewing the “available produce” tab.

It is our goal to make things as simple as possible as well as straight forward,” Bella added. Fresh produce will come from a variety of sources and interested growers/shippers can provide FHP with their availability of surplus or unmarketable produce that could fit into the program design. FHP is looking for packing culls, or branch rubbed fruit, surplus produce, or produce that is just unmarketable for whatever reason. Even #2 grade produce is great as long as it is all fresh and sound produce. Growers may donate produce and in many instances take advantage of tax credits. FHP will negotiate prices for packaging produce into transportable sizes for charity use. “We cannot use a bulk load of potatoes loaded in a 60,000 pound open truck, however surplus or overstock potatoes from storage sheds at the end of the season is a great example of what FHP can use if washing and bagging can be organized. It is then that they really offer great value to the end user of the product,” Bella said.

He added, “This program could be a huge benefit to growers and packers as we discuss what can be done to unmarketable product. Wouldn’t it be great if it was distributed to American’s who need it most?

Fresh Hope is looking to build a movement. Those interested in helping are encouraged to reach out to Rick Bella at 219-714-2711 or email rick.bella@freshhopeproduce.org. You may also use the contact us area on the http://www.FreshHopeProduce.org website.