Q&A: Laborers of the Harvest

Careit sat down with one of the most inspiring food rescue partners in all of California, and asked them to share their story of hope. Shari Rightmer from Laborers of the Harvest in Taft California, just outside of Bakersfield has an incredibly unique story to share.

Careit: How did you become involved in the food rescue world?

I grew up poor white trash on system, escaped. Had a Beverly Hills life style landing a job in medical field taking working with world renown doctors that took care high-end celebrities. Married a rock star bass player, after 17 years… My happily Ever After came to and end by him passing away. I ended up in a homeless shelter Bunk #11. Who knew I would fall in love with and spoke the language of homeless. 6 years ago, Started passing out PB&J sandwiches with another other, just to get to know ppl and establish relationships with ppl in my hometown. That grew to making meals for 60-80 ppl every night and the very ppl we were serving got their Food Handler’s Permits and created the meals (the ppl serving were all deemed homeless). 2 years ago, a local food bank that had been in existence for 36 tears the ppl wanted to retire, no one wanted it, so they asked our group, We said YES! Jumped in and have LOVED being part of our new adventure of taking what was to where it is now.

Careit: What are the core values of LOTH that set you apart from other food banks and food pantries?

Great question! Most food banks offer pantry or shelf life stable foods, meaning most of the foods require access to a kitchen to store, prepare and cook the foods. Though all these foods are wonderful, the public is not aware that many of our people that a hunger with do NOT have a kitchen and/or a kitchen that does not work. Example: those deemed homeless. Those that cannot afford to pay their utilities (no gas, electric power, water etc…) and those that their appliances do not work or they don’t have any. Our TRUE intention is about establishing trust with people through relationship. Listening to what THEY ask for and making all we GIVE is about them…PEOPLE 1st!

LOTH has re-branded itself as a FREE Fresh Food Facility. Meaning most of the food we offer at our FREE Fresh Food Store “Open Harvest” ( set up is ready to eat and dose not require a kitchen. We rather and gleaning foods from our local grocery stores that have reached their “Sell by Date” but is still good to eat. These foods were ending up in the landfills prior to LOTH now we RESCUE, REPURPOSE & REDISTRIBUTE Fresh Healthy foods to the communities that do not have access to this goodness. There are no questions asked, everyone is welcome, you get to choose ANY foods you want that works for you and/or you family’s situation, you can return as many times as you wish on either Tuesday and Thursday 6-8pm (after people are off work so the do not have to choose between feeding their families or working to be paid.

We also serve ready-to-eat fresh healthy foods daily between 10am-12noon for those without a home or kitchen. They receive, deli sandwiches, salad, yogarts, fruit, juice, water, milk, snacks, cookies! We rescue school cafeteria foods and warm them up for distribution or turn them in to frozen foods.

Careit: How has your program evolved since its inception?

Our LOTH Originals set up a food bank for 34 years and served  PB&J sandwiches 6 years ago. Totalling around feeding 1500 people per month. As of 2 years ago and implementing our FREE Fresh Food Facility that is literally run and operated by our homeless, gathers/gleans over 118,000 pounds of FRESH HEATHY Foods and serves around 11,000 people in our county. Our Taft community has NO food insecurity at all. Crime rate has diminished and we had 57 homeless 5 years ago and today we have 11 deemed homeless. Our program benefits all!

Careit: What are the main challenges with building and sustaining a model like this?

Well, we removing from an all volunteer model to paid employment opportunities with our non-profit. Our model has grown so much that we can no longer operate on the $450-$1,000 per month to continue the GIVING we offer to our communities. So funding is our greatest hurdle at this time. Grant writers. People connect in our community for private funding. Awareness of all we do is another challenge and to perhaps train to create our LOTH model in other areas that our program might be a great fit with like minded communities. We simply breath and step in to each day as everything unfolds. We had no idea we would grow from PB&Js to feeding over 11,000 people per month with a hand full of “those people” that were never going to amount to much. Now they are our Homeless Heres for sure!

Careit: How does the traditional model of emergency food relief affect those in need?

Most people have a car to come get the foods. You are issued the exact amount per family and you do not have a choice or a say in what you get whether you will use it or not. They are 50-70 pounds per household, whether there is 1 or 20 in the household, of Commodity Foods issued (canned goods, rice, pinto beans, split peas etc…) which a kitchen is required. On our 4th Wednesday of the month around 240 cars go drive thru within a 3 hour period. There are NO walk-ins because there is too much to carry by hand.

Careit: What does the future hold for LOTH and what do you need to get there?

We would love to become a recognized model for Food Hauling/Uber-ing. Expansion and awareness because…WE LOVE to GIVE! The more we GIVE, the more there is to GIVE!

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