Harvest for Hunger rescues food to support locals in need
Snowmass-based nonprofit has already distributed thousands of pounds of food
Every Tuesday morning, Gray Warr hops into the driver’s seat of the Harvest for Hunger van in Snowmass Village and sets out a food rescue mission to collect food that would otherwise go to waste and help distribute it to local families in need.
Just over two months into distribution, the founder and executive director of Harvest for Hunger already has rescued more than 6,700 pounds of food (and counting) from valley restaurants, hotels and grocery stores. City Market locations in Carbondale, El Jebel and Aspen are regular stops on the route; Warr also checks in with on-mountain restaurants and local hotels on a regular basis.
The food goes directly back into the communities where it was rescued: food collected at midvalley locations goes to the Tuesday mobile food pantry operated by Aspen Skiing Co. at Crown Mountain Park to supplement inventory from the Food Bank of the Rockies. Food collected in Aspen goes to the Wednesday food drive organized by Aspen Family Connections, currently located at the Aspen Golf Course.
“Our service not only rescues food from being thrown away, but also keeps our food in our valley — the food that gets brought up here stays up here,” he said.
The service is a supplement, not a substitute, to other existing food distribution nonprofits in the area; Warr’s collection efforts at grocery stores and restaurants help bolster community resources and adds more fresh foods — breads, produce, dairy, meat, ready-to-eat meals — to the mix of nonperishables.
“Through the food bank, we don’t always get produce,” said Skico’s Sustainability and Philanthropy Manager Hannah Berman, who helps organize the Crown Mountain Park food pantry. “We’re so grateful for the food that we have, but it’s so nice and you can tell that the families are grateful when they get fresh produce, vegetables, perishables, because they may not always get that through the food boxes.”
It’s a significant undertaking for Warr’s small operation. He gets support from four members on a board of directors, but the food rescue and distribution effort is Warr’s initiative; he dedicates his day off from work as the Snowmass Ski School adult alpine coordinator to pickup and distribution.
“It started out as an idea several years ago,” Warr said. “I was an instructor, and I had clients that would ask me if I wanted their food when they were leaving because they couldn’t take it with them. … I saw that people were buying way too much. They always had stuff left over.”
The initiative would recruit instructors to collect items from individual households, much like a regular food drive.
Then Warr met Aspen Family Connections director Katherine Sand at the Buttermilk food drive last summer. Conversations with Sand helped Warr think bigger than just a household-by-household collection strategy, he said.
“She really loved my idea but thought that I was thinking too small. … She’s like, ‘You could go to a house, and grab some non perishables — three or four cans — or you can go to the grocery store and grab 600 pounds of food,'” he recalled.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” Warr said.
Warr filed the articles of incorporation for Harvest for Hunger in August and secured 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax-exempt status in October; he received his first grant in November from the Aspen Community Foundation, bought the van in January and embarked on his first official food rescue mission Jan. 26.
Additional financial support from Skico, the town of Snowmass Village, the Karl Arthur Severson Foundation (the foundation’s president Mark Severson also is on the Harvest for Hunger board of directors) and other contributions from local families helped get the program off the ground. The latest grant, $6,000 from Skico’s Caring for Community fund, was just approved last week, according to an email from Berman.
“We are so stoked for Harvest for Hunger. … (Warr is) someone who has definitely come on our radar as someone who is motivated, someone who understands the challenges of our local system,” Berman said in an interview earlier this month.
Those grants have helped cover operating costs and initial startup expenses, including filing fees and the purchase of a van bearing the Harvest for Hunger logo.
“Everything that we’ve gotten has gone straight into the business,” Warr said.
Future funding could support hiring paid staff to help with pickup and distribution, an effort that is currently limited by Warr’s schedule, he said. Long-term, he hopes to become “food sufficient,” perhaps with the creation of a food storage facility.
“Who knows what the future holds?” Warr said.
To learn more about Harvest for Hunger, visit harvestforhungerco.com.
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.