My wife and I had the opportunity to volunteer for a few hours last Saturday at Harvesters. For those that aren't familiar w/ Harvesters, they are a clearinghouse for the collection and distribution of food and related household products. Just about everything that comes in their doors, is sorted and then distributed to service providers among 13 counties in Kansas and Missouri. I had been told that it was a pretty impressive operation, but was surprised at how big it is, and how smoothly it seems to run.
From what I have heard, there are a few roles that volunteers work. Most people think of sorting canned and box foods. Believe me, there's a lot to be sorted. Other tasks include washing eggs (donated by local grocers) and sorting other fresh, perishable items.
Bulk, perishable donations are double edged sword. While we were there, we were part of a group that sorted donated potatoes. More specifically, 3 pallets full of 50 pound bags of potatoes. Since they are perishable, our task was to sort thru all of them, and then put them in smaller bags of about 5-10 pounds each0. The smaller bags then went in to a giant bog, that was carted off to the warehouse (I think we filled 4 of those boxes). The potatoes were pretty small (most likely too small to be sold at a market or grocery store) and some were well past fresh. If I had to guess, I'd say about 10% of what was in the bag, was bad and had to be pitched. What's amazing, is that Harvesters can get perishable items into the hands of people that need them, while they are still good.
When our 3 hours were over, we were pretty tired. Frankly, we smelled pretty bad too. Rotten potatoes and sweat are a subtle aroma that I can live with out for a while.
I could go on forever about the place, but will leave you with this... I heard someone say "I'm glad we are fortunate enough that we don't have to rely on organizations like Harvesters to keep our family fed." That's certainly true, but I would like to think of it a little differently... I think we are fortunate to have an organization like Harvesters, to help out families in need.