4/25/2012 04:04:00 PM

Rescue Mission: How City Harvest Uses NYC Restaurants to Feed the Hungry

Jose Montanez, rescuing food from Landmarc
Every day, City Harvest feeds countless hungry New Yorkers. To do so, the charitable organization has to collect over 30 million pounds of food each year. To see how they manage this feat, we decided to tag along one day, waking up in the morning to jump on one of their truck and make the rounds to city restaurants. Check out the story of our "rescue mission" below: 

At 10 AM on a Thursday, customers huddle into the narrow Amy's Bakery on 9th Avenue in midtown to grab a coffee or pastry before heading off to the office, but that's not what Jose Montanez is here for. He’s here on a rescue mission.

Montanez coolly slides past the line of people and into the bakery’s back area, where the victim awaits: It’s a medium sized trash bag filled with loaves of bread, rolls, and twists, all barely a day old.

Montanez is a driver for City Harvest, New York’s preeminent food rescue organization, dedicated to feeding the city’s hungry by collecting excess food from restaurants, grocery stores, farmers, and other outlets. Every day, he “rescues” leftover food from restaurants and stores around the city, from Whole Foods to the Beth Israel cafeteria, and delivers it to needy outlets, making more than 20-stops in his eight-hour day.

His truck is just one of a fleet of 18 deployed by the organization seven days a week and manned by dozens of drivers. In one year, City Harvest collects and distributes 33 million pounds of food. "New York is the perfect place for it because we're all so close together," says Erin Hoover, Associate Director of Communications at City Harvest. "The distance where food is and where it needs to go isn't that far."

The breads are tossed to the back of the truck, where a towering stack of cabbage heads already sit. Next stop: Landmarc restaurant at Time Warner Center, the Upper West Side outpost of Marc Murphy’s bustling bistro. We sit waiting outside the loading dock for a short eternity - turns out getting security clearance to enter the TWC loading is on par with getting into the White House.

Finally, we’re in. Montanez leads the way up to the third floor and through a maze of back hallways into Landmarc kitchen. Inside, waiters and servers bustle about, nibbling on a family meal of stir fry and salad and prepping for lunch service. We’re hear to pick up 30 meals prepared just for city harvest early this morning, something the restaurant regularly does. The roasted chicken with garlic and thyme and pasta salad with vegetables aren’t leftovers, a sous chef tells me, though sometimes leftover mise en place is used to prepare them.

The 60 pounds of food are carefully wheeled back to the truck. “Now, we’re going to the drop,” says Montanez, who recalls using food pantries with his mother when he was a young boy and the family had first come to New York from Puerto Rico. He’s worked as a driver for City Harvest for almost five years. “It makes me feel good.”

We head to St. Bart’s church on Park Avenue. There, the bread from Amy’s Bakery is put on the makeshift shelves of the Crossroads Panty, a food pantry that sets up in the church every week and provides for some 300 families each month. The Landmarc meals will be served in the soup kitchen later in the day. In addition to City Harvest, St. Bart’s cobbles together a mix of food bank donations and funds from state and federal programs to help the needy. “They’re just families who can’t make it through the month,” says Rev. Edward M. Sunderland, the director of Crossroads Community Services. “We get lovely food.”

-Hailey Eber


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