April 19, 2012 in Washington Voices

Conveyor belt speeds sorting at food bank

By The Spokesman-Review
Pia Hallenberg photo

Volunteers from Asuris Northwest Health sort apples on a conveyer belt during the unveiling of Second Harvest Food Bank’s new volunteer center.
(Full-size photo)

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For more information about Second Harvest Food Bank or to volunteer, go to www.2-harvest.org.

The more than 2,500 volunteers who sort and box food donations at Second Harvest Food Bank can look forward to a lot less back strain.

Last week, Second Harvest showed off its new volunteer center, which features a conveyer belt at a comfortable height.

“There will be a lot less bending over and scooping things up,” said Jason Clark, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. “In some ways it’s simple 1950s technology, but it means the world to us.”

It was a $160,000 pledge and a multiyear commitment from Asuris Northwest Health that made it possible for Second Harvest to finish the volunteer center, which also contains a cafe-style break room.

The upgrade makes it possible for Second Harvest to process twice the fresh fruit and vegetable donations as before: 14 million pounds.

“Fresh produce has to be distributed quickly,” Clark said. “We have occasionally turned down donations because we didn’t have the facilities to process the produce.”

Last Thursday, Asuris employees were sorting and boxing apples using the new conveyer belt. The new equipment can also be used to sort food donations that come in Second Harvest’s donation bins.

Clark said that’s going to be a big help, because the bins usually hold all sorts of food items from canned to bagged to baby food in glass jars.

The volunteer center and conveyer belt is separate from the food warehouse, another important detail for working volunteers because the warehouse is cold.

“Six months out of the year it’s really cold in here,” Clark said. “This way, we have a safe and comfortable place for our volunteers, and we can process a higher capacity. It’s nice that we could combine the two.”

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