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Touching Lives

AboutImpact 2022 |  Feeding the Hungry  |  Ending Homelessness  |  Emergency Disaster Services  |  Touching Lives  |  Financials  |  Did You Know?  |  The Fight for Good  |  PDF version

The Salvation Army
Partners to Keep Food Out of Landfills and
Onto the Tables of Those in Need

by Vivian Gatica Lopez – Caring Magazine 

A few days a week, Ragu Razo gets into The Salvation Army Mesa Citadel (Arizona) Corps Community Center’s refrigerated truck early in the morning and drives to grocery stores around the city. At each stop, he collects food from stores that would have otherwise likely gone to waste. Upon completing his routes, Razo brings the food back to the Mesa Citadel Corps, so it can be distributed to clients at its food bank.

“My days here are long. I go to numerous stores, and I collect all the food donations,” said Razo, who is The Salvation Army’s driver for the Grocery Food Rescue Program. “On some of my better days, I’ll collect 8,000-10,000 pounds of food.”

Razo is a master plumber by trade.

“When I took on this job, they told me, ‘We can’t pay plumber’s wages.’ And I said, ‘Well I’m not into it for [that]. I’m here to do God’s work,’” Razo said. “It’s very fulfilling for me.”

“[Razo] goes in each and every day and he sees it as his ministry and his way of helping out,” added Major Scott Ramsey, retired Mesa Citadel Corps Officer. “He’s going to the stores. He’s made wonderful relationships at the stores. They like him. He likes them. It works very well.”

The Mesa Citadel Corps partners with United Food Bank for the Grocery Food Rescue Program, which keeps food that is still good out of the landfills and brings it to people in need instead.

With the Grocery Food Rescue initiative in place, the corps’ food bank is able to offer meat, poultry, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and other food staples to clients. Some stores even donate pet food to offer relief for those expenses as well.

Ramsey said what the corps is able to offer a family nowadays is so much more substantial. Ground beef, steaks and chicken are frozen by the stores before it hits the sell-by date, and the corps keeps it all frozen until it’s distributed to families. A lot of bruised vegetables and fruit that might not look good in the produce aisle still have shelf life and can be a godsend to those in need.

United Food Bank makes the arrangements with the grocery stores and handles all the logistics behind the scenes before The Salvation Army does its food pickups.

The Salvation Army receives food donations from grocery stores including Fry’s Food Stores, Bashas’, Walmart, Costco, WinCo Foods, and Sprouts Farmers Market.

“They’re very thankful to be able to help,” Razo said. “They are very generous.”

Everything the stores donate goes straight to the food bank, so the corps can give it away to clients who need it. When Razo arrives with the truck full of food, full-time volunteer Maria Davis—who runs the food bank—and the team of volunteers sort through the food and prepare it for distribution. The food bank serves an average of approximately 50 families a day. “It’s very important that we get those donations from the grocery stores, because, with that food, we help a lot of people in need who don’t have food or whose salaries aren’t enough to feed their families,” Davis said.

And while the Grocery Food Rescue Program has been around for a long time, it’s become especially important in recent months as the need increases.

“[It’s important], now with inflation, that people are able then to have some of their food costs [covered] and so their money can go to their other bills. They can keep their lights on, keep their rent [paid], and eat now,” Ramsey said. “They might be making their rent. They might be making their utilities. But they’re having to make more choices with how much they’re able to eat and what they’re able to eat because of the other bills. We’re helping with their food insecurity.”

And community members are thankful for the assistance.

“It’s a lot of help for people,” Davis said. “A woman was telling me that meat prices have increased too much, and the eggs, too. She told me, ‘Thank you, God bless you, and thank you for what you are all doing to help the community.’”

“People leave [the food bank] very happy with their boxes of food,” Davis said. “Hopefully God will keep blessing us with a lot of food and more support to keep helping others.”

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