Cans across America: how a cross-country partnership is helping us source food

Volunteers label cans at our warehouse

Over the past month, some volunteers at our warehouse have been hard at work on a new project: labeling thousands of cans of corn and green beans that were shipped to us by our friends at the Northern Illinois Food Bank completely free of charge.  

But how did these “brights” (as unlabeled cans are often called) end up all the way out in California? That’s the result of partnerships across the country, as well as changes we’re making in-house to ensure we’re being as resourceful as possible with your gifts.

An abundance in Illinois

The food you have access to on a daily basis can look quite different depending on where you live, and the same is true for food banks. In California, we have easy access to fresh produce year-round. In Illinois, which is home to many large canning and processing plants, food banks often receive large donations of canned goods that are perfectly edible but unsaleable due to some issues such as denting or mislabeling. 

To help all our neighbors get the right mix of foods to make filling, nutritious meals, food banks in the Feeding America network (of which we’re a member) have set up a system to share these large, regionally-specific donations with each other. Not only does this increase variety for everyone, it ensures that all the food donated within the network gets to people who need it – instead of sitting on a shelf and going bad because it can’t be given out quickly enough.

Because of our partnerships we were able to access $25,000 worth of shelf stable goods that would not typically be donated to us on this scale – freeing up funds to spend on other necessary items, like meats or dairy. Feeding America also generously covered the cost of shipping this food across the country. 

Trying something new

Putting labels on the brights is important because we want our neighbors to feel safe and proud to use the foods we’re distributing. A proper Food Bank label makes the can look more appealing, and ensures our neighbors can be confident they know what’s inside.

While the Northern Illinois Food Bank has been receiving, labeling and distributing brights for years, it’s the first time we’ve tackled a large labeling project like this in Contra Costa and Solano Counties – and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our volunteers!

Many volunteers at our warehouse agreed to take a break from their regular sorting and boxing duties to support this project and we can’t thank them enough. Because of them, we’ve labeled more than 70% of the cans already, and are on track to finish soon. As the cans are labeled, we’re making them available to the food pantries, soup kitchens and other nonprofits we work with to serve our community – taking this story of partnership one step further!

This was the first project of its type for us, but we’re hopeful it won’t be the last. As part of a project underway to modernize our warehouse (stay tuned for more on that soon), we’re adding the capacity to print these types of labels in-house, further reducing future costs.

The “brights” in action: Ready for distribution by one of our nonprofit partners.

Volunteers are so important this season

With the schedule changes summer brings, more volunteer slots are going unfilled in our warehouses and at distributions. You can help! Check out our Volunteer Calendar to find an opportunity that’s right for you, and spread kindness in our community.