Apple Corps Ambassador, Misty Coolidge – #CrushingHunger Tour

In June of 2021, Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine’s Apple Corps Ambassador, Misty Coolidge, was crowned the national United Service Ambassador for the Worldwide USA Pageant system. Misty has been traveling the country #crushinghunger by volunteering at Feeding America food banks and helping to raise awareness for food insecurity.

Nebraska

Food Bank for the Heartland’s mission is to provide emergency and supplemental food to the people in need in throughout Nebraska and Western Iowa. Misty visited in 2021 and that year the Food Bank provided 32.8 million meals in partnership with a network of over 610 partner agencies. These frontline providers supported 296,000 people in a 78,000 square-mile service area.

While volunteering with the Heartland team, the team Misty was volunteering with were responsible for bagging, weighing, and sealing bags of donated Omaha Steak meatballs. The pallets of meatballs were ‘shorts’, meaning they weren’t able to be sold in retail but were donated to the food bank because they were still great quality. Misty was welcomed by a wonderful crew of staff and the President, Brian Barks, came down to greet her and she was able to share her background and her WHY with him and the team. They were surprised with her ‘get to work’ work ethic. Misty scrubbed her arms from the elbows down, put on a disposable apron, hair net, long gloves, and got to work.

“I look forward to returning to visit Food Bank of the Heartland in July 2022, when I am back in Omaha to compete for the next title with the Worldwide USA pageant system,” stated Misty.

New York

In June of 2021, Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine’s Apple Corps Ambassador, Misty Coolidge, was crowned the national United Service Ambassador for the Worldwide USA Pageant system. Misty has been traveling the country #crushinghunger by volunteering at Feeding America food banks and helping to raise awareness for food insecurity.

Her first stop after being crowned was Manhattan, New York, where she volunteered with City Harvest at the Prince Hall Mobile Market in September 2021. City Harvest is New York City’s largest food rescue organization, helping feed more than 1.5 million New Yorkers who are facing food insecurity.

On that early fall day, volunteers were stationed at several sidewalk tables and distributed thousands of pounds of fresh produce directly to those who needed it. Misty passed out ears fresh corn and cucumbers to families, seniors, and individuals.

“It was very emotional at times, especially when small children, the same ages of my children would come through the line without parents. I couldn’t help but think, where are their parents and what circumstances could they be going through to allow them to be on the streets alone,” Misty recalled. “It was very hard at times but also an incredible, heart-warming experience that I will carry with me.” That day, the team of volunteers distributed 16,176 pounds of food, including corn, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, dole fruit cups, and canned goods to 460 households.

California

The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank has been fighting hunger since 1973, and since its founding, they’ve distributed more than 1.5 billion meals to its community. The Food Bank serves more than 900,000 people each month through their partner agency network and direct service programs and they are distributing roughly 4 million pounds of food weekly.

While volunteering, Misty’s task for the day was inspecting and bagging bushels of apples with a fantastic group of volunteers. In total, 3,111 pounds of apples were processed for distribution.

“I’m enjoying the opportunity to visit and volunteer at food banks across the country and seeing the differences between their distribution centers. The bright artwork surrounding us as we worked and food fighting quotes are very inspiring. Particularly the wing wall in Los Angeles, where volunteers are viewed as angels in disguise,” said Misty.

Nevada

Three Square Food Bank has been serving the residents of Lincoln, Nye, Esmeralda and Clark counties since 2007.

While volunteering, Misty spent the morning packing after-school boxes for children. Each box includes a mini cheese pizza, as well as a cup of peas, carrots and apple slices. That morning, 3,289 meals were assembled for the Food Bank’s program. Three Square Food Bank packs 3,000-5,000 boxes daily as part of the federal No Kid Hungry program. After being prepared, these boxes are distributed to local schools, YMCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs, libraries, and recreation departments.

“This Food Bank had three exquisite buildings, a commercial demonstration kitchen for hosting chefs, a beautiful volunteer area, and various quotes throughout the facility. I love their tagline, ‘Together, we can feed everyone!’” shared Misty.

North Carolina

The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina distributes over one million pounds of food every week, serving nearly 600,000 food insecure people in 34 counties. 38% of the food they handle is fresh produce. Did you know that 60% of the sweet potatoes in the USA come from North Carolina? If they were to stop taking in food today, their food bank would be empty in 10 days! That’s how fast they distribute pallets of food into their communities.

Misty’s passion for #CrushingHunger is strong, and whenever she can, she brings a friend or family member to volunteer. While in North Carolina, her friend Heather joined in on a morning of volunteering to help bag sweet potatoes. Together the team of two bagged 14,400 pounds of sweet potatoes. This poundage equals almost 12,000 meals.

“When signing up for a volunteer shift, we were given the option of working inside or outside in their exterior garden, which I thought was pretty cool! I had an awesome time and I look forward to returning!” stated Misty.

Wisconsin

While visiting Milwaukee, Misty was supposed to volunteer at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, but due to the volunteer area being under construction, she found the nearest food pantry they support, Coggs Community Center, to the Friedens Community Ministries Food Pantry, where they operate the Hunger Task Force and hand out donated food and supplies directly to families in need.

Those in need come ‘shop’ their offerings by checking off items they want from a grocery list provided, and the volunteers pull everything off the shelves and out of the refrigerator. They can choose from fresh produce, hygiene items, socks, and lightbulbs. Items vary almost every day. While visiting, there was a food donation from Walmart. Misty helped haul in the boxes, sort food, break down boxes, and put things away.

Massachusetts

While in Massachusetts, Misty and her husband visited The Greater Boston Food Bank. They joined a small team of volunteers at their 117,000-square-foot warehouse. The task of the day was labeling (Nutritional labels) donated Demakes meat products for distribution to one of their 500 partner agencies in Eastern Massachusetts. Before the pandemic, they were distributing 70 million pounds of food annually. They’re now distributing over 120 million pounds of food.

During the first two hours of their shift, they labeled 4,524 pounds of meat, equaling 4,322 meals! That was completed with only five people!

“It’s amazing the impact a small group can make,” stated Misty.

They bagged and re-boxed oatmeal packets for family boxes in the last hour. Misty was so excited her husband joined her for his first food bank experience, and they worked alongside a gentleman named Adam, whose fiancé is a neuro nurse and has inspired him to give back as she does, and this was also his first shift. Of course, Misty encouraged a Maine destination wedding!

Georgia

While in Georgia, Misty visited the Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia Food Bank. She worked with a small crew packing 315 mobile food pantry boxes, equalling 580 meals! Each box included one grapefruit juice, two cans of apple sauce, two cans of apple sauce, two cans of tomato sauce, two boxes of spaghetti, two bags of lentils, two cans of peas and two bags of beans. They also have a kids cafe that prepares hot meals for children in the community.

Despite their size, they significantly impact the community by distributing 7.8 million pounds of food to 325 pantries in the coastal Georgia region. Their “Grace’s Kids Cafe Kitchen” provided more than 831,000 meals for children at 105 partner sites.

Philadelphia

Misty was on her way to New Orleans to volunteer when an impromptu shift in plans led her to Philabundance in Philadelphia. She spent the morning with a large group of volunteers packing Senior Boxes. The team of volunteers packed 520 boxes equaling 15,600 pounds of food.

After her shift, she met with the CEO, Loree Jones, and was given a wonderful tour of their facility. She shared her story with the volunteers and received a thoughtful swag bag.

In 2020 they distributed 55 million pounds of food, 324,000 pounds to youth programs, and 1.7 million pounds to seniors.

Some unique operations at their Food Bank that stood out to Misty were: On Fridays, they have ‘Good Pizza’ Friday, where they make and distribute pizzas to those in need in the community. They have school children come in and write ‘Notes of Sunshine’ in children and senior boxes to bring smiles and sunshine to brighten days. President Biden and First Lady Jill have visited twice, helped sort and pack food, and signed their wall. Misty noted that Philabundance was one of her favorite and most special visits.

Washington DC

Misty’s next destination on her #crushinghunger tour was Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., a 100,000-square-foot warehouse that touches the lives of 500,000 people per week. Pre-Covid, that number was 400,000 and increased to 600,000 people in need.

She volunteered with a large group of people from Andrew’s Airforce Base and made 1,030 family meal boxes, providing a family of four with food for three days. Each box includes whole milk, almond milk, instant potatoes, diced pears, tuna, peanut butter, chickpeas, cereal, biscuit mix, and granola bars.

During Covid, they distributed 14,000 of these boxes per week, now down to 7,500. They have 27 trucks that deliver to all their partner agencies.

Their ‘Food Plus Program’ provides special dietary boxes for seniors, doctors’ offices, diabetics, and expecting moms with specific diets. They offer recipe cards with affordable, family-friendly meals to give families ideas. Each card has the cost of each meal to work with their budgets.

They have ‘7 Way’ cards which offer seven ways to make each vegetable and how to cook it.

Connecticut

The second day of Misty’s three-state road trip was at Connecticut Foodshare.  What was once two separate food banks (Foodshare & Connecticut Food Bank) has become one with their recent merger.

On an early Thursday morning, four volunteers, including Misty, filled Emergency Family Food Boxes consisting of cereal, pasta, sauce, canned fruit and veggies, soup, peanut butter, a snack, and energy bars.

They packed two pallets consisting of 168 boxes and 2,688 pounds of food.

New Hampshire

The last stop on Misty’s three-state road trip was at the New Hampshire Food Bank.

“This stop was unlike any other.”

Misty and her friend Nikki spent the morning in their culinary kitchen processing carrots for a rice pilaf and cutting mushrooms for a massive batch of beef stroganoff. Their kitchen alone (aside from the food bank itself) prepares and cooks 5,000 meals per week that go out to the Boys & Girls Club, churches, soup kitchens, Meals on Wheels, and other programs. Together their volunteer team prepped, cooked, and packaged 30 pans which equals 600 meals!

Their food bank works with 400 partner agencies and annually distributes $12M meals to families in need.

Their biggest fundraiser of the year is their March Steel Chef competition, where four local head chefs compete for the title of Steel Chef. A Food Network chef comes as the guest chef host and oversees the competition. With over 700 attendees watching, including 250 VIPS, it’s a competition Misty plans to attend in March.

Michigan

Misty’s sweet sixteen food bank stop was at Forgotten Harvest in Oak Park, Michigan, with her sister Queen Ms.USA 2021: Sherlyn Fox.

Their huge volunteer crew was split into two. Their team went to the ‘re-packing’ room to bag donated Kellogg’s butter crisp crackers. Kellogg’s main manufacturing plant is in western Michigan, and they hugely support the fight against hunger. They donate huge bags of cereal and crackers that need to be rebagged and labeled, hence having a room designated for this task. Collectively they rebagged 1,029 pounds of crackers. That was 49 cases (about a pallet and a half). In total, Kellogg donated 15 pallets.

The other half of our volunteer crew packed Family Meal boxes, and together they filled 16 pallets with 960 boxes, equaling 19,200 pounds of food.

Ohio

Next on Misty’s tour was Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank with her sister Queen Mrs. Worldwide Heidi Scheer. Their volunteer task of the day was sorting frozen meat.

One of their most prominent food bank supporters is Costco, and they had several donated pallets of frozen meat to sort into ‘cooked,’ ‘uncooked,’ and ‘seafood’ boxes. Their small but mighty crew of three volunteers sorted 2,907 pounds of product.

After their shift, Jonathan (volunteer coordinator) gave  a tour of the facility and shared information on the food bank programs. With Michigan and Ohio being giant manufacturing states, most of their donations come from Campbell’s, Heinz, Kellogg’s, and about $3M annually from Amazon.com. They have two Harvest Market trucks that travel into food insecure areas, and they serve food from the truck, which has an awning, shelving, and stairs that people can enter and shop. They also partner with DoorDash to deliver their Senior Boxes to those that can’t get out to the food bank in person.

 The Toledo Food Bank serves eight counties and 212 agencies.

 

Arizona

While in Arizona, Misty volunteered at St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, packing shopping carts of food that would be loaded directly into cars at their distribution center. Our assembly line included non-perishable boxes, frozen meat, dairy, desserts, water, watermelons, salads, chips, Pepsi, and bread. Cars lined up around the block for six hours. They pulled up, no qualifying or questions, trunks popped, volunteers loaded, and they were off.

Collectively we loaded 875 cars, distributing 61,250 pounds of food. The other half of our volunteer crew packed 936 emergency food boxes of non-perishables, equating to 1,124 pounds of food.

St. Mary’s was the first food bank in the country founded by John Val Hengel in 1967, dubbed the ‘Robin Hood of Food,’ who later went on to found Feeding America!

Other fun stats that Misty liked about this food bank:

  • They have three huge buildings: their Distribution Center, Warehouse, and Community Kitchen & Market.
  • The community kitchen works with at-risk individuals, moms, etc., giving them kitchen skills, and cooking lessons and placing them in restaurants around the city. Their ‘Lift Program’ works with those that want to learn warehouse skills, and those individuals get jobs at warehouses such as Amazon.
  • They distribute 300,000 meals per day.
  • They have mobile distribution units that travel to communities and hand out food from their truck to those that can’t make it to the food bank.
  • Their warehouse rotates stock every three months! So if they didn’t take in any food, their shelves would be empty in that timeframe.
  • Their Senior Boxes go to those who qualify and make less than $1,500 per month.
  • They pack 17,000-25,000 emergency food boxes per week!
  • They partner with 900 agencies.
  • They crafted special ‘Tribal Boxes’ that go to their local Navajo Region; families with no stores to shop at or refrigerators to keep things cold, so they met and designed boxes to fit their needs.

Virgina

Misty’s 19th state was crossed off her list when she visited Feed More in Virginia. It was her first time portioning meals in a culinary kitchen for Meals on Wheels. Her team portioned and sealed chicken stroganoff with barley and spaghetti with collard greens, equalling 1,600 meals for those in need.

“The crew was amazing, and we had such a great time, including some ‘I love Lucy’ moments when the meals were flying out of the sealing machine so fast we could barely keep up!”

Feed More serves 34 counties and partners with 260 agencies. The Botanical Gardens in their city grows veggies and donates 100% to the food bank. Programs include Meals on Wheels, Backpacks for Kids, mobile food pantries, school markets, and more. Last year they distributed over 25 Million meals to those in need, which equuals to 40 Million pounds of food!