WEST MILFORD, N.J. — West Milford Nonprofit Director Gary Oppenheimer has figured out a way to help 50-million food- insecure Americans.
Through his organization, AmpleHarvest.org , he is connecting 42-million gardeners with local food pantries so they can donate their excess produce.
In seven years, AmpleHarvest.org has helped 7,714 food pantries across the country receive a sustainable and recurring supply of locally grown food.
In turn, millions of pantry clients have been able to feed their families fresh fruits and vegetables.
"The problem isn't that we don't have enough food, it's that we don't use the food we have," Oppenheimer, 63, told Daily Voice. "AmpleHarvest.org provides information so that we can use the food we have more efficiently."
Oppenheimer grew up in Yonkers being told that he should always finish the food on his plate.
"My family escaped Nazi Germany and they always told me that there were kids starving over in Europe," he said
The former computer programmer moved to a large plot of land in West Milford in 1998 and took up gardening. By 2007, Oppenheimer was growing more food than he could use, and decided to bring some of it over to the local battered women's shelter.
"They said they had never received fresh produce before and I thought that was odd," Oppenheimer said. "That was my first inkling into what would become AmpleHarvest.org."
The following year, Oppenheimer took over the local community garden and once again found that there was too much food to go around.
"I thought if we have an ample harvest, we should give it to the people who need it," Oppenheimer said.
Today, AmpleHarvest.org facilitates the flow of millions of pounds of produce into local food pantries, and receives support and backing from the White House, Google and the USDA, among others.
Oppenheimer has met the president of the United States and is the recipient of the 2011 Russ Berrie Award for "Making A Difference." He is still unsatisfied.
"There are some 33,500 food pantries in America which means we've penetrated roughly 20-percent of the market," Oppenheimer said. "We need more food pantries everywhere so that gardeners can conveniently bring their food there."
In a world where AmpleHarvest.org has even 50 to 75-percent market penetration, Oppenheimer says American hunger looks very different.
"We could save billions of pounds of otherwise wasted food and feed upwards of seven millions Americans with fresh fruits and veggies every day of the year," Oppenheimer said. "This is low hanging fruit that could solve a lot of problems."
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