As much as 8,000 pounds of food a month, declared unsaleable at Navy commissaries, will soon be helping feed the needy in San Diego County, according to a Department of Health and Human Services official.
The food will be supplied to the San Diego Food Bank and the Metro Food Project as a result of the November passage of the Department of Defense Authorization Act. The act allows the commissaries to donate food that no longer meets military requirements to the nonprofit food banks.
"I don't think it would be unrealistic to think that these (San Diego) food banks would get as much as 2,000 to 4,000 pounds of food a month," said Beau Carter, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.
The four commissaries, which operate as supermarkets for military and retired military personnel and their families, are at Miramar Naval Air Station, North Island Naval Air Station, 32nd Street Navy Base and the San Diego Naval Training Command.
According to officials, the items to be donated are dairy products near expiration dates, produce that will spoil if not used, and food in dented cans and crumpled packages.
The food banks should begin receiving supplies from the commissaries by the end of the month, Carter said.
The commissary goods will provide a major boost to the two projects that feed the needy.
"We are not meeting the demand," said Shelly Cooper, assistant director of the San Diego Food Bank. "We are always looking for sources, especially steady ones."
Cooper said government and private contributions to the San Diego Food Bank hit a high of 149,670 pounds in November and that contributions rarely fall bellow 60,000 pounds a month.
"My lord, what we can do with that," Helen Motto, founder
and executive director of the Metro Food Project, said of the Navy food.
"The 4,000 pounds will come in . . . canned goods and we don't get much of that. Who knows what else they can give us?"
The Metro Food Project receives about 140,000 pounds a month in contributions, she said.
Cooper said red tape kept food banks from benefiting from discarded military foodstuffs under a program started in 1983.
Under previous law, commissaries were prevented from giving away food that was government property. Food banks had to apply for the food from suppliers who had provided the goods to commissaries. But the suppliers often chose to sell the goods for salvage instead. Cooper said manufacturers also feared liability if someone became ill from a donated product.
Because of those stumbling blocks, the the Metro Food Project received only 783 cases of juice under the old program, while the San Diego Food Bank received nothing.
The rules of the old program meant that tens of thousands of pounds of unusable food at San Diego commissaries wound up on refuse heaps, according to Carter.
"If a freezer broke down in a commissary, under the old rules, the commissary would have had to destroy the food that was thawing," Carter said. "With new legislation, the commissary could now donate that food to the food bank. . . .
"That's why it was so frustrating for us, and some of the commissary people, to see this stuff get thrown out," he added. "They (the commissaries) were bound by this law that says you can't make a gift of government property."
Carter said that law was probably responsible for a million pounds of food a year being thrown away at commissaries across the nation.