Wednesday, December 13, 2006

City Harvest

by Jaclyn Paré

12.13.06 - Here’s a delectable way to make a much needed donation this holiday season: Book a table at Le Bernardin and order the $40 City Harvest lunch---slivers of fluke, with Chinese chive buds, extra virgin olive oil and lemon, followed by cinnamon-toast ice cream. You get an exquisite meal and City Harvest, the nation’s first and New York City’s only food rescue organization, gets $5. Back in the kitchen at the end of the day, four-star chef Eric Ripert will set aside fresh vegetables, breads, fish, even desserts—gourmet food his clientele didn’t order that day—to be picked up by City Harvest. Says Ripert, who doubles as chair of City Harvest’s Food Council and contributes to the cause several times a week: “When there is good food that is going unused, why not put it in the hands of those who can use it?”

Jilly Stephens, City Harvest Executive Director with Rachael Ray at City Harvest's Mobile Market in the South Bronx.
Just how many hands are we talking about? The numbers in New York City alone are staggering: An estimated one million people—a third of them children-- rely on emergency food programs at some point during the year. The array of people lining up at the city’s soup kitchens and food pantries includes the elderly, the infirm, the recently fired, the homeless, people with two jobs who still can’t make ends meet, and single working mothers faced with the choice of either paying the rent or buying dinner for their children. 

City Harvest makes eating an option for 260,000 people every week. On the go around the clock, its 16 trucks rescue fresh food from top New York City hotels, bakeries, corporate cafeterias, caterers, farmers, supermarkets, wholesalers, and restaurants and then deliver to some 600 distribution points around town. (Go to to see if your favorite restaurant or purveyor is on the list. Two of mine, Balthazar and Sullivan St. Bakery, are!) The sum total of food City Harvest rescues each year: a staggering 20 million pounds, virtually none of which is warehoused. “We are not about bricks and mortar,” says Patricia Barricks, who oversees fundraising, volunteers, outreach, and marketing at City Harvest. “We’re about movement.”  An army of close to 2,000 volunteers, everyone from teenagers to retirees, is also on the march.
Feel like walking off your lunch and helping others at the same time? Starbucks has teamed up with City Harvest to prepare small bags of excess food that volunteers can deliver to a nearby food bank during the day.

click here to make a donation online or click here to discover other ways to help.
The brilliantly simple idea of rescuing perishable food in the morning and putting it on someone’s plate that evening had a humble start over a beer and potato skin in 1980. On break from her job at Yale’s community soup kitchen, Helen VerDuin Palit began wondering where all the innards of those skins—the rage among college kids at the time—were going. Turns out, of course, the potatoes were being dumped. Palit quickly put an end to that, rescuing the potatoes for the soup kitchen. Two years later she moved to New York and started City Harvest, a model that has since been replicated around the world.

City Harvest, today an $11.2 million operation that educates people about nutrition as well as feeds them, relies almost entirely on private contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Its biggest challenge, says vice president Barricks, is putting hunger on the map: “Hunger is hidden because no one in a position of power is hungry. The thing is, though, people who deliver our lunches might be.”

To make a donation by phone, call 1-800-777-HARVEST or Click Here to donate on-line. Alternatively, mail a check to City Harvest, 575 8th Ave., 4th floor, New York, NY 10018.

Also, save the date: City Harvest will hold its gala celebrating its 25th anniversary on April 18, 2007. And one more thing: Go partake of lunch at Le Bernardin. You’ll be giving at the same time.