USDA shares 'secret weapon' in Feds Feed Families donation campaign

Tuesday - 6/17/2014, 11:43am EDT

Karen Comfort, Feds Feed Families, National Program Manage

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By Stephanie Wasko
Special to Federal News Radio

The Department of Agriculture has a secret. Last year, it used crop gleaning to help collect food for the annual Feds Feed Families donation drive.

Karen Comfort, a USDA employee and national program manager of the 2014 Feds Feed Families campaign, tells Federal News Radio, she's sharing the agency's secret with the hope that more federal employees will deploy the tactic during this year's campaign.

Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields. Often times, field owners do not have a market to sell all of their produce or the finances to hire the labor needed for harvesting.

"Gleaning gives us an opportunity to go into these fields and harvest perfectly edible, nutritious crops that will go on to food banks, food pantries and food kitchens," Comfort said. "So, it's a great opportunity for employees who don't have an extra or disposable income to purchase food items to donate, to participate or to give in some other way."

She said this process enabled agencies to collect 9 million pounds of food during last year's campaign. The government's goal for 2014 — 10 million pounds of perishable and non-perishable food items.

USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration Dr. Gregory Parham and his son help out on a crop gleaning for the Feds Feed Families campaign. (USDA photo)

Comfort told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp Tuesday that federal employees can head to participating farms all over the U.S. to collect leftover crops for donations.

There are three ways of donating to this year's FFF campaign:

  • Dropping off non-perishable/perishable food items at donation bins set up in federal offices nationwide. The donations go to either the Capital Area Food Bank or other local food banks.

  • Purchasing food to donate online through the Feeding America website.

  • Participating in gleaning opportunities such as the ones scheduled for June 21 and June 28, at Eagle Tree Farms in Colonial Beach, Virginia.

Comfort said she is optimistic about reaching this year's goal by the end of the campaign on Aug. 27.

"There is already so much enthusiasm and energy as it relates to this Feds Feed Families campaign," she said. "I honestly think the enthusiasm is going to continue right through the summer months."

Since the beginning of the campaign in 2009, federal workers have collected 25.1 million pounds of food to donate to families nationwide. This year, 37 departments and agencies are participating, including some participants overseas, Comfort said. The drive kicked off June 2 with the theme "Help Knock Out Hunger."

Stephanie Wasko is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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