Howard Johnson introduced David Bobanick, who is not only the Executive Director or Rotary First Harvest, but who is also this year’s president at Mercer Island Rotary Club.
In May 2011, Rotary First Harvest and David were featured in the Rotarian magazine. Howard pointed out that this is David’s 10th year at RFH.
David started by talking about his trip this week back to Rotary International in Illinois. He said his reception this time was very different from the last. On the previous visit, it was a battle with their legal team to keep the Rotary First Harvest name and logo, since it was not in compliance with RI policies for use of the name “Rotary.” With that battle now won and well in the past, David's most recent vist was well-received, especially since RFH has grown to be one of the best-known success stories of Rotary district projects.
David is especially proud that this program was started by Rotarians back in 1982 by a single Rotarian in the University Club who had an idea.
How did he get involved? It all started with a dark, cold, rainy Seattle winter day. David saw a little old woman who looked like his grandmother. At that moment he realized that you can’t really always tell who needs help. You can never tell who didn’t get breakfast or dinner at home.
David showed a slide of a Washington apple. It wasn’t perfect, because hailstones hit the apple when it was small. As a result, it would never sell in a grocery store, because customer expectations are that all the fruit and vegetables must be perfect. The USDA estimates that 25% of all produce grown in the US goes to waste each year, and a lot comes from imperfect food – food that is just as nutritious, but just not as cosmetically attractive.
David Bobanick, Howard Johnson, and Wayne McCaulley
In Washington, 60% of food bank output goes to children and seniors in poverty. What extra hurdles does that create for their lives? Nutrition allows young brains and bodies to grow, and without it, children cannot meet their own potential. For the elderly, it is essential to keeping their bodies strong and healthy.
In 2011, Washington food bank demand is up 35% from last year, and last year was itself a record year. Our society is asking food banks to do a lot more.
What are Rotary First Harvest Challenges? David looks at everything RFH does as being an example of “the power of one.” It was the power of one – Rotarian and banker Norm Hillis – who came up with the idea. He plugged in the talents and resources of other Rotarians, and the idea took off. In the first year, 1982, Norm got the University Club to apply its entire charitable budget into hunger relief. All of the neighborhood gardens in the area took their bumper crop to a local church. The bumper crop was zucchini.
In 1983, Rotary First Harvest became a District 5030 project: Mike Shanahan, the former chief of police for the University of Washington police force, was the catalyst for big changes. [Side note: Two BBRC members have been awarded the “Mike Shanahan Award” for their work with RFH. Do you know who they are?] Mike Shanahan sent out an APB to all law enforcement agencies in Washington, asking them to get the word out. Two days later 30,000 pounds of produce in Othello became available from the Sheriff there. Now, Mike had to figure out logistics.
Mike didn’t have trucks, but he had Rotary connections. He used club members to find a gravel truck, and brought the produce back from Othello. Next was a load of broccoli from Burlington.
Since those early shipments, Rotary First Harvest has facilitated the delivery of 160,000,000 pounds into food banks. RFH is focused exclusively focused on produce.
How does that happen? David calls it “connect and collaborate.” Jack grows potatoes in Burlington. He uses his sorting machine, “Spudnik,” to sort through 40,000 pounds of potatoes. Because not all of them are marketable, at the end of the day, he has potatoes he can donate.
Howard Johnson, David Bobanick, and Tom Smith
Then, RFH calls Ed in Auburn. Ed owns Oak Harbor Freight Lines. In his business, trucks go out full and often come back empty. Ed can carry the potatoes to the warehouse at Northwest Harvest. David quickly pointed out: RFH owns no trucks and no warehouses. They are the ones who put the pieces of the system together.
After the warehouse, Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline send the food out to the food banks for the distribution to the end customer. In addition to Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, there are other parallel organizations in Tacoma and Spokane.
Last year, Rotary First Harvest was responsible for the delivery of 11,000,000 pounds of food, at a cost of less than half of one percent in admin costs.
Connect and collaborate also has caused Rotary First Harvest to succeed in reaching out to smaller growers. In an innovative blend of RFH and national Vista volunteers, RFH kicked off a new program: Harvest Against Hunger. HAG takes these volunteers, all recent college graduates, and matches them to areas throughout Washington State. Each area’s program is different and tailored to the needs of that area.
In Harvest Against Hunger, over 1,000,000 extra pounds came in the first year.
Overall, last year, Rotary First Harvest had over 2500 volunteers helping the organization. This year, it was almost 5000.
The increased demand and the increased scale of operations required the organization to be more “high tech.” RFH combined with Rotarians in the District (and in BBRC specifically) for a new program, Computers for Food Banks.” This was a spin-off of John Martinka’s Computers for the World program. In this program, the computers make a huge difference, but in turn, the program makes a huge difference on the high school students who are installing them and seeing the impact of the organization first-hand.
David thanked the BBRC for our part in supporting Rotary First Harvest, and our part in making it the success it is today.