SALT LAKE CITY — In a nondescript warehouse, Kim Snieder is working wonders.
With each grocery item she scans, Snieder, an employee of Columbus Community Center, is helping to feed hungry Utahns through a partnership among the nonprofit organization, Smith’s Food & Drug stores and the Utah Food Bank.
The program, launched in March, repurposes unsold nonperishable products donated by Smith’s. Employees of Columbus Community Center, which serves people with physical and intellectual disabilities, scan, sort and pack the food and nonfood items for delivery to the Utah Food Bank.
The partnership has provided more than 129,000 meals to food pantries in its first six months. The program has the potential to generate an additional 360,000 pounds of food for clients of food pantries throughout Utah.
Previously, Smith’s sent unsold products to third-party companies that discard damaged food, return it to manufacturers or sell it to discount operations.
Now, the food is delivered to a Columbus Community Center work site, where employees scan each food and nonfood item to determine whether it can be donated, returned to its manufacturer or discarded.
“With this innovative approach, high-quality, nonperishable foods are getting into the hands of people who need them, while actively employing people with disabilities in our community,” said Marsha Gilford, Smith’s vice president of public affairs.
The process works like this, Snieder said. “I am scanning, making sure it goes through the computer. If it says ‘destroy,’ we put it in the trash. If it’s open and we can see the food, we put it in the trash.”
Food and grocery products eligible for donation are packaged for distribution to the Utah Food Bank. While the products are primarily canned goods and packaged foods, Gilford said paper goods and cosmetics are also donated.
The unsold items include products for which manufacturers have updated their labels or changed product formulas, she said.
“I've been really surprised of what comes through,” Snieder said, especially “candy, because I love candy.”
Columbus employee BJ Jensen said he thinks about the people the program helps as he scans and sorts food.
“Not a lot of people have a lot of money, and not a lot of people have jobs. Us doing this is helping them out a lot more,” Jensen said.
Katy Curfew, who manages the program for Columbus Community Center, said the partnership provides valuable job training and employment for people with disabilities. The program provides the equivalent of three full-time positions, she said.
The Utah Food Bank, which provides food to a statewide network of 130 emergency food pantries and agencies, also considers the partnership a win-win, said chief marketing officer Ginette Bott.
The partnership builds upon the Utah Food Bank’s existing relationship with Smith’s, Bott said. Smith's donated 2 million pounds of food to the food bank in 2012.
“This adds so much to our inventory. These are products you and I enjoy in our homes, so they're ideal for families in need. We are truly appreciative of the variety and quality of food it brings to the food bank,” Bott said.