Natalie Caples, co-CEO at the Central Food Bank, cuts the ribbon for the unveiling of a new produce packing line, making it the only food bank in California with such a line. Photos by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
The Central California Food Bank unveiled its first produce pack line Tuesday morning, allowing it to distribute more quality produce to community members in need.
Volunteers from the local Golden 1 Credit Union and food bank staff ran the packing line for the first time, with local media invited to the event.
The Central California Food Bank is the only food bank in California to utilize such produce packing equipment.
Co-CEO Natalie Caples said that the installation of a packing line has been a goal since around 2017. With the December 2019 donation of a decommissioned apricot line from the Ricchiuti Family, whose brands include PR Farms, the process was able to begin.
“The donation of the decommissioned apricot line really was a blessing in 2019 because we were trying to figure out how we were going to put this line together. PR farms really came through for us,” Caples said.
In 2017 the food bank began to reach out to their agricultural partners to see if they had any decommissioned pack line parts to utilize. That solidified a relationship with the mechanical engineering department at Fresno state to retrofit the produce line.
Sam Parnagian of Fowler Packing also lent his expertise to help with the design and retrofitting process.
The packing line will allow volunteers to process produce in about 20 minutes that would normally take an hour.
Jobelle Nunez, volunteer manager at the food bank, said that volunteers are excited for the work line to allow for more food to go out to neighborhoods.
“With this project we can utilize more volunteers to get more food out and get other projects out there in the community,” Nunez said. “Sometimes our older volunteers wouldn’t be able to bend over, and with this, volunteers can stand and sort with a group.”
The packing line allows for one bin of produce, weighing from 500 to 800 pounds, to be completed in about 20 to 25 minutes, saving time and strain for employees. It also allows for more food to be distributed more quickly to neighborhoods.
The sorting line will also facilitate the removal of produce that is marked, bruised or spoiling to prevent other produce from going bad.
“This has been a dream for many years,” Caples said. “Three years ago is when conceptualization started, but before that we had dreamed of what we could accomplish if we had a pack line like this. I’m excited to see all the blood, sweat and tears that went into this project produce actual tangible results and have a tangible impact on our neighbors that are experiencing food insecurity.”