This week, I went to Food Lifeline and volunteered in their big warehouse.

Warning: This blog article has nothing to do with Starbucks … Now that I have that out of the way, I shall continue:

In July, I volunteered with Food Lifeline at the Bite of Seattle event.  I mentioned it in passing in this article here, though didn’t write a blog post about it.  I had so much fun at the Bite of Seattle, that I decided I would sign up to volunteer with Food Lifeline again.  You can see a picture of me here manning the Food Lifeline donation box at the Bite of Seattle.  Last Wednesday evening (August 8, 2012), I went to their main office and warehouse space in Shoreline, Washington for another round of volunteering.  Here’s the front of their building:

Some of you may remember that earlier this year, you saw that the postman put a blue plastic sack in your mailbox with the message “Stamp Out Hunger.”  The Stamp Out Hunger food drive is actually a national event.  I learned that is timed in the spring of each year because giving drops during that time, however the need for food starts to go up.  As children finish their school year, they shift away from having meal programs in schools and parents may need more food at home.

The many many bags full of donated food then get distributed to agencies that sort, filter, and repack the food for distribution to food banks, and meal programs.  That’s how Food Lifeline ended up with numerous extremely large boxes, full of bags of food.  Here are the boxes we had to sort through:

Back to those blue bags full of food: One thing I learned is that many people put nearly inedible stuff into those blue plastic donation bags.  I saw cans of soup that were expired by over five years.  I saw half open bags of pastas.  People toss in some strange food items.  And people toss perishables into those blue bags.  At one point during my work, we ripped open a blue bag that had half a bag of potatoes.

If you decide to donate to a food drive, here are some loose guidelines to think about:  All the food you donate should have an ingredient label.  Because of concerns over food allergies, foods that don’t have an ingredient label on them are simply tossed into the trash.  Do not donate perishables.  Don’t give cans of beer or anything alcoholic.  Some of the food programs that receive the donations may be associated with recovery centers.  Don’t donate such extremely old food that you wouldn’t touch it yourself.  I saw one box of half eaten pasta-like product that had a Pay ‘n Save price tag on it.  There hasn’t been a Pay ‘n Save in Seattle in decades.  Don’t donate half-eaten food.  Don’t donate crushed or damaged canned items.

One team of volunteers lifted bags of food out of those big boxes and placed them on numerous tables where teams of people ripped them open to sort their content.  I was placed with the team of people who ripped open the bags and sorted.  I tossed out things like crushed and damaged cans, grossly expired food, and food with no labels.  (It was surprising to me how often I saw that).  Then I sorted dry items (e.g., pasta) from canned and liquid items.  Also, the many cans of pet food that are donated (yes, they get tons of pet food!) are sorted separately and are not stored with human food items.  The sorted food items (for human consumption) that had been “filtered” by my teams then were placed on a long conveyor belt.  At the end of the conveyor belt, another team of volunteers carefully packed like items together in boxes.  The final boxes are what end up at food banks and meal programs.

Here’s an action shot of the conveyor belt:

If it’s not obvious, I had a blast.  I met other friendly volunteers, and learned more about food donation than I ever knew before!  The group of volunteers for that’s night work appeared to be roughly 25 people.  There were large scales on the premises, and the volunteer director told us that we processed 6,980 pounds of food that evening.  About 70 to 80 percent of all the food that Food Lifeline distributes comes from donations, such as food drives and donation bins in strategic locations like grocery stores.  If you want to donate to Food Lifeline, here is information how to do so.

At one point in the evening, I noticed a bag of Starbucks Guatemala Antigua whole bean coffee make its way down the conveyor belt.  It had come from one of the other tables of volunteer sorters.  I grabbed my phone and took a quick photo of that too. Spot the coffee: 🙂

By the way, the Food Lifeline warehouse is huge:

Thank you for patiently reading about my volunteering experience!  I will go back to my regular Starbucks programming soon. 😉

Last but not least, Starbucks does have a Community Service website that both customers and partners can register at.  This Food Lifeline event was not related to Starbucks in any way, but I want to point out the Community Service website in case my readers are interested.

Thanks again for bearing with me through a non-Starbucks article!