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Photo by Mandee Rae

'Moving Food Where It's Needed': Local nonprofit gives rescued crops to those in need

EastWest Food Rescue, a recently established nonprofit organization in Woodinville, evolved out of a Facebook post trying to rescue a ton of crops to distribute to food banks. In the first 15 days, the team had already rescued 217 tons of food.

With a mission of "moving food where it’s needed," the organization purchases surplus food from farmers and distributes it to those in need. The volunteer-run organization coordinates every step of the way—from finding new sources of food to organizing transportation and making sure these rescued crops are given (at no cost) to people with food insecurity.

“It happened organically," said Zsofia Pasztor of the nonprofit's origin. "We are experienced professionals who used our skills, knowledge and passion to put the project and organization together fairly quickly as we responded to the - for us - obvious need."

By the last day of August, the hardworking crew had moved their 5 millionth pound when the first semi arrived and they took off the second pallet.

“We did it with hard work and a bit of a miracle,” Pasztor says. "While we are doing this day in and day out, it is often just shocking even to us how it all happens. People find us, they need food. Others find us and tell us that they have extra. Sometimes we look for the extra. We can always use more - more volume, more variety, more refrigeration, more help with transportation, much more funding, etc.”

The process for how this works often changes. They sometimes buy food at cost from farmers, she explains, like they did to begin with - then arrange for delivery. Sometimes this is done with convoys, other times with donated semi deliveries that bring it to Woodinville's Paradise Farm.

"We bag what needs bagging," Pasztor says. "Or otherwise sort things and provide it to all who come and need help with their food distribution work. "

They also receive boxes from the USDA's Farmers to Family program. Pasztor says.

"We take it out of trucks and put it into community vehicles who take it directly to folks in need."

People love receiving these variety-filled boxes because each one can provide a family with enough food to last multiple days. "Everything ends up on plates," she adds.

When asked the most challenging part of this journey so far, Pasztor says: “Emotional involvement. We are responding to a crisis, and we in many ways are first responders to the hungry community members. We see and hear of stories that are just hard to learn about. Whenever we do not have enough food, it is incredibly tough to tell everyone.”

She clarifies that yes, even with 5 million pounds, there are times when they don't have enough to meet the demand.

"The most surprising [thing] is probably that we are doing it in such a volume," she says. "I never thought about food this way. When someone tells me they need a lot, I immediately think, 'How many pallets'? The most rewarding [part] is that we are able to be part of the helpers. In the middle of a still growing crisis, we are helping others to overcome. “

In order to get the work done and the word out, more than 1,000 volunteers are ready to jump in as drivers, potato baggers and to fill countless other roles. Pasztor says they have at least 8 to 10 people at the site each day and many who contribute in the background - delivering, doing admin work and making calls.

So how can we all pitch in?

“Fundraising!" Pasztor replies. "We need to raise money if we are to continue this work."

The team is constantly looking for donations to help rescue crops from going to waste and to pay for transportation to the food banks. They also have a constant need for volunteers who can help load and unload trucks, bag food and distribute the haul.

“There is hope,” she says. "We will get through this crisis. Just reach out, love the neighbor, share food, share good news; we are each other's keepers.”

More information on donating and volunteering with EastWest Food rescue can be found online.