In late June, I was contacted by the Mid Florida East Coast American Culinary Federation Chapter President, Kirk Kief CEC, CCA, CPC from Daytona. He informed me about a developing opportunity that would be benefit the community. Five Star Gourmet Foods, headquartered in Ontario, was working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farmers and communities across the state.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, farmers had all their product earmarked for the restaurant industry. But with all the foodservice operations shutting down, had no one to sell it to. The idea was that the program would be underwritten by the United States Department of Agriculture with Five Star Gourmet Foods acting as the orchestrator. The USDA wanted these products to go to residents in need who were impacted, instead of farmers tilling it back into the ground or having it go bad in a warehouse.
They decided on a warehouse located in Naples and formulated a plan that 80 trucks (weekly for the next 8 weeks) would go to different areas of the state, with the stipulation that the product had to remain in Florida. Each truckload had 30 palettes with a total of 1,440 cases of mixed produce.
In May and June, Five Star Gourmet Foods had given away 9 million pounds of produce. Their goal with next 8-week program which would span July and August was to give away 12 million pounds of produce. They turned to the American Culinary Federation for assistance and to spread the word. As of July 23rd, the ACF Chapter I’m part of will have distributed 5 truckloads in the area (2 in Palm Coast, 1 in Pierson, 1 in Deland, and 1 in Daytona).
Palm Coast Distribution
On July 13, the truck arrived at Imagine School at Town Center in Palm Coast. Jim Guzzaldo, Pastry Chef of Hammock Dunes Club, Imagine School’s Robotics team, parents and coach (aka my wife, Kristen), Imagine School staff and students, ACF Chapter Member Kevin Gallagher, MS, CEC and I worked methodically to hand out boxes to those in line for three and a half hours.
When we opened the back of the trailer, there was an overwhelming sense of how much was actually inside. Would we be able to distribute all of it? How tired would everyone be by hour three? There were many questions…
We advertised distribution times of 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Five Star Gourmet Foods gave us a 4 hour “window” to get the job done. If there were palettes of food left, they would take them back to the warehouse in Naples. But we did not see that as an option. We wanted to feed Palm Coast!
Cars started lining up at 8:17am. We didn’t want to start the unloading process that early and preferred to maintain the cold chain temperature for the produce as long as possible, keeping it under 40°F. Once 8:40am approached, we started unloading boxes from the truck, to the cart, to the covered table. By that time the car line had grown to 10. We were pretty confident of the word getting out and the power of social media, feeling that the momentum would carry on.
Once situated and having a stocked table ready for distributing, we decided to start loading boxes into cars at 8:55am. The line moved fast and those cars in line were quickly filled, they were very appreciative and on their way by 9:10am. But then there was a lull. What would happen if we couldn’t get all these boxes to the people who needed them? Maybe social media wasn’t the best marketing tool. Many thoughts crossed our minds.
We devised a plan. Kevin Gallagher would fill his truck to the max with boxes and take them to Vince Carter, and any businesses or people in need. Jim Guzzaldo and I made signs with which we would stand in front of the school and attract passersbys to turn in. It started to work. After over 45 minutes of being out front (and at times having 5 cars in a row pull into the school) I received a text from my wife who was helping unload the truck saying, “We can’t keep up, we need your help to unload and fill cars.” When we returned, we immediately ran to where they were and inserted ourselves back into the assembly line. It remained constant with anywhere from 10 to 20 cars in line at a time for the entire remaining 3 hours. Evidently the power of social media works. I guess people just wanted to sleep in.
As we are unloading the tractor trailer, Kevin Gallagher continued to fill his truck and distribute it in the community. We did a palette countdown: “6 palettes left, oh wait… there’s 8.” Then, “4 palettes left.” Then, finally, “we’re down to 1½ palettes.” Then we had to decide our next steps.
Imagine Robotic Team Members rushed to pull the road signs and close the gate that allowed cars to come in and get in line. Kevin Gallagher filled his truck for his last run to the community. At 12:50pm all 1,440 boxes had been handed out to Palm Coast residents. We had succeeded in emptying the entire truck to the Palm Coast community.
It was hot. It was exhausting. But, most of all, it was gratifying to serve our community. To see the appreciation from all who received the produce was well worth all the hard work. And I’m looking forward to doing it again.