Salvaging Potatoes, Feeding the Hungry

ON June 3, 1983, the Society of St. Andrew (a nonprofit affiliate of the United Methodist Church) delivered a load of salvaged potatoes to the Central Virginia Foodbank in Richmond, Va. It called the act of goodwill the Potato Project.

Today - 10 years and 150 million pounds later - the Potato Project provides food relief to the nation's hungry. Described as a ``produce salvage program,'' the project transports potatoes and other produce to food banks, soup kitchens, native American reservations, and Salvation Army centers throughout the United States. Based in Big Island, Va., it has also helped feed those in need after hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.

Each year millions of surplus potatoes are deemed ``unmarketable'' owing to slight imperfections in size, shape, color, consistency, or general appearance. These ``rejects'' might ordinarily be dumped somewhere and left to rot.

But with a waste-not-want-not attitude, the Potato Project scoops them up. At a cost of about 4 cents per pound, they salvage 15 million pounds of produce (mostly potatoes) a year and ship it to some 48 states. The project is funded by donations from individuals, churches, and foundations. More than 100 farmers have contributed produce, and more than 220 agencies have received food across the country so far.

``The success of the Potato Project has come from many people: farmers, food banks, truckers, volunteers, churches, civic organizations, and numerous others,'' says Marian Buchanan, director of operations since 1986. ``Many times we feel that just one person can do little - but all of us working together can make a difference.''

* For more information, write The Potato Project, P.O. Box 329, Big Island, VA 24526, or call (800) 333-4597.

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