With COVID-19 gripping the country, the USDA has helped create partnerships with producer distributors and local communities.
Now thousands of boxes of fresh produce are making their way to the tables of Central Coast families.
The pandemic has crippled restaurants, and along with it, food distributors like The Berry Man, Inc. The wholesale distributor supplies restaurants, resorts, institutions, caterers, and markets from Big Sur to Malibu.
"Our sales dropped almost 80 percent overnight," Les Clark, the company's president, said. "We were furloughing employees. We were cutting everyone down to two days a week. In several weeks, our business dropped immensely."
The USDA stepped in, providing a program from the federal stimulus package to connect distributors like The Berry Man to residents in need.
"They told us, you go find the non-profits and you set it up, work with them, you can distribute it for them since we have the vehicles, we have the people in place, all we need is the order," Clark said.
The contract bid was for 100,000 boxes of produce to counties throughout the Central Coast area. Clark says they hit the goal of the first 100,000 by the end of June and has the opportunity for two more rounds throughout the end of the year.
It also led to the partnership formed between The Berry Man and SLO Food Bank, adding 16,000 boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables at a local level.
"We've been doing that for about two weeks now. And we're scheduled to do that for two more months," Clark said. "We tried to keep the box exciting for kids. We try to keep berries in there, peaches, nectarines, watermelon we did recently. It's a 38 pound box of produce."
With food insecurity at an all-time high in San Luis Obispo County, the partnership is a welcomed addition.
"We've done everything from augmenting our distributions throughout the county with produce from The Berry Man, as well as partnering with our local school districts to assist them," said CEO Garret Olson. "Our mission is provide food to people in need and so our relationship with The Berry Man allows us to be very creative in figuring out the most effective and efficient way to guarantee our mission is executed throughout the entire county."
It has left families with smiles and gratitude.
"The donation is from the American people. Its comes from the USDA," Clark said. "We are honored to be able to be apart of that program and to have our name on the box and to have our employees delivering the box. The good will that brings to our company is just unmeasurable."
With the unemployment benefits expected to run out by the end of the month, SLO Food Bank worries it could spell another wave of financial need in the community, meaning a greater need for food.
You can always help donate financially to the food bank. Learn more by clicking here.