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Food Forward gathers food supplies for the hungry in Ventura County

July 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fifty-two million Americans go hungry every day. While food banks look for new ways to bring that number down, summer is the toughest time to keep their pantries stocked.

One local food bank is trying a unique approach providing healthy fresh produce to help feed the hungry.

Oranges that would have fallen to the ground and gone to waste are gathered by Rick Nahmias and his organization Food Forward. Nahmias and his crew pick fruit and vegetables straight from trees in back yards. And now they're helping to supply a food share - Ventura County Food Bank - to feed the growing number of hungry people. Nahmias says the timing is just right.

"We feel like there's this energy right now both around food and healthy eating and getting off your butt and doing something, and giving back, that kind of makes the stars align right now," said Nahmias. "We feel really blessed to be part of that equation."

Bonnie Weigel is the president and CEO of Food Share. She agrees the need for food is higher than ever before.

"When we first started a couple of years together in 2008, it was closer to 45,000 friends a month," said Weigel. "Today, it's almost 75,000 friends a month."

With demand increasing, organizations like Food Share have had to look at creative ways to get food and donations. Cue Food Forward.

"Those individual back yards where there's a couple of trees or in this case, this company who had about 20 citrus trees, well that's where Food Forward came in and said, 'Hey, we want to help you get to those back yards. We don't want that fruit to fall on the floor, and let's help you feed hungry people with it,'" said Weigel.

Nahmias came up with the idea while he was walking his dog.

"There was huge amounts of fruit in my little neighborhood in Valley Glen that was just going to waste," said Nahmias. "Squirrels were getting it, under the wheels of cars, it was just going nowhere, and I knew that hunger was on the rise, and that need was really peaking, and it was really just an experiment with one tree in a friend's backyard, and it's just kind of rippled out into this crazy experience and kind of a family."

Food Forward harvested 85 pounds of fruit on their first day, three years ago. And now They're nearing 1 million pounds. The immediate goals are to avoid waste and feed the hungry. But that's not all.

"We'd love people to realize that they're part of the solution, that we have, in many of our back yards, that one tree. One single tree can give between 200 and 1,200 pounds of fruit."

They rely on volunteers to pick the fruit, sort it and then distribute it to Food Share clients like Corine.

"There's a lot of people that do get food stamps, but I'm one that can't so this is very, very helpful to me," said Corine. "Sometimes I don't know what I would do without the Food Share."

"It's such a wonderful thing to know that there's this fruit that might otherwise not be eaten, and that it's getting into the hands of the people who need it, so it, it's a great community," said a Food Share volunteer.

Weigel says many of the people they help have jobs and a place to live, but they need places like theirs to help them get enough food to make it through the week. Even if it's just a few days each month.

"Hungry is hungry and whether you go hungry one day, three days, or a week, it's just not OK with us," said Weigel.

To contact Food Forward, call 818-530-4125 (or 805-409-4760 in Ventura County), or visit the website at FoodForward.org.


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