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USDA “Farmers to Families” Food Box Program

Just weeks ago, hundreds of tons of fresh produce were wasting away in farmers’ fields due to COVID-19’s impact on the restaurant and hotel industries. Meanwhile millions of people without jobs were struggling to find food.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) quickly set up an emergency program called “Farmers to Families Food Box” to help farmers, food distributors, and hungry families. Now, two food distributors are shipping thousands of these food boxes to White Pony Express for day-of distribution to homeless shelters, senior centers, churches, and schools serving low-income children and their families.

Under the USDA program, local and regional food distributors of farm products can submit bids to the USDA to assemble boxes of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products. As part of their bid, they select a nonprofit serving people in need. Then, if awarded a contract, they deliver the food boxes to the nonprofit for distribution.

Two food distributors, Vesta Foodservice of Hayward and CDS Distributing, located in South San Francisco, named White Pony Express as a nonprofit recipient for their food boxes. The Vesta food boxes include fruit, vegetables, butter, cheese, yogurt, and milk. The CDS boxes contain fresh carrots, romaine hearts, apples, oranges, potatoes, and onions.

WPE is incorporating these food boxes into our food rescue program to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last 7 years, volunteer-powered WPE has been rescuing surplus food from supermarkets and food distributors and delivering it free of charge to agencies serving those with the greatest need. Since COVID-19 hit, and due to partnerships like these, WPE has been able to distribute three times as much food per day to feed the growing number of hungry people.

“The food boxes from Vesta and CDS Distributing couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Eve Birge, Executive Director of White Pony Express. “Our food donations had plummeted, while the demand for food had skyrocketed due to COVID-19. We are so grateful to these two companies for reaching out to White Pony Express. We will lovingly deliver the food boxes from Vesta and CDS free of charge to our community partners who will give them to those devastated by the pandemic.”

Pete Olsen, WPE’s School Pantry and Food Sourcing Manager says, “When I learned about the Farmers to Families program, I felt this would be the supplement we’d been looking for. It was a dream come true when Vesta and CDS asked if White Pony Express would like to receive their food boxes. This has been a game-changer for us!”

The boxes have been a huge win for the recipient agencies and partners we serve as well. The family-sized boxes are easy to distribute and provide a consistent source of food for families in need. One of our newest recipient partners, “Team Jesus” based out of Antioch, receives the boxes several times a week, and it has made a huge difference in their ability to serve the local community. Another partner we’ve added since COVID-19 is the Oakley Senior Center, who tells us the food donations are critical at this time for the eldercare community.


“The Oakley Senior Center, Oakley Rotary Club and WPE, how they've teamed up to help senior citizens is having a huge impact. I’ve never experienced a collaborative delivery system like this. How it’s all set up…it is unbelievable. I personally talk to the people who come get the food and they are so impressed by how they are treated, and the variety of food that is given. And they're very, very grateful." - James Quintana, Food Pantry Volunteer from Oakley Rotary Club.

“Our food line is growing a lot. We have people lined up going all the way down to the corner some days. We help them all and often carry it to their car. But by the time they leave, their bags -- and their hearts -- are full.” - Tim Lear, Oakley Senior Center - Citizen’s President.

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