Operation Food Secure getting fresh produce and dairy products into hands of Topeka-area residents

Operation Food Secure is getting fresh produce and dairy products to Topeka-area residents.
Operation Food Secure is getting fresh produce and dairy products to Topeka-area residents.(Phil Anderson)
Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 3:05 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A program that is offering fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products to residents in the Topeka area is off to a flying start.

Operation Food Secure, now in its 13th week, has distributed more than 580,000 pounds of fresh food at no charge to residents of Topeka and northeast Kansas.

The program is assisting residents in Shawnee, Jackson, Jefferson, Wabaunsee and Osage counties, organizers said.

Food boxes distributed through Operation Food Secure are supplied by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Shortly after it began, Operation Food Secure was distributing a few hundred food boxes a week in the Topeka area.

The program quickly grew. At present, some 3,000 food boxes are being distributed each week out of the Topeka Rescue Mission’s warehouse at 206 N.W. Norris.

Barry Feaker, executive director of the Topeka Rescue Mission, said partners in the Operation Food Secure project include Harvesters, the United Way of Greater Topeka and the city of Topeka.

A growing concern of the local agencies was the amount of food insecurity brought about in part by the coronavirus pandemic.

Feaker said the Mission and other similar organizations across the nation took part in a Zoom call about three months ago with representatives from World Vision, CityServe and Citygate Network.

He said leaders from the three national organizations were looking for innovative communities to take part in the Farmers to Families Food Box program sponsored by the USDA.

A key was finding communities where various groups could work together to address food insecurity.

“They said while groups like Harvesters and the partnering agencies are doing a phenomenal job of helping truckloads of food get to parking lots and to supply places like the Rescue Mission,” Feaker said, “we need to see if we can help fill the gaps.”

Feaker said the Mission agreed to help lead the project in Topeka and quickly extended an invitation to other groups and organizations to participate. Many were eager to help with the project, he said: “We’ve got the right people who are coming along.”

Steve Davis, chief operating officer of Harvesters, said food insecurity is a “complex” issue requiring various groups bringing their talents together.

“It takes the combined skillset of a lot of organizations coming together,” Davis said, “bringing to the table the unique gifts and talents they have as organizations and as individuals to make a difference in an issue like this.”

Sissy Gager, who lives in North Topeka, said she has received produce and dairy products through Operation Food Secure.

“Being on the end of this,” Gager said, “we don’t have a lot of money -- our whole neighborhood. The fresh fruit is so nice to get, because you can’t always afford that, and you should have that every day. So it’s very helpful.”

Local businesses have stepped up to assist Operation Food Secure in Topeka, including Mars, Reser’s Fine Foods and US Foods, which provided refrigerated trailers for the mission to use for food storage.

On Tuesday, a new walk-in cooler was unveiled in the Mission’s warehouse where boxes with produce and dairy items are stored before they are distributed through Operation Food Secure.

A new walk-in freezer also is being built on the east side of the Mission’s warehouse.

Topeka Rescue Mission officials say they have developed a network of more than 70 community partners, including churches and neighborhood groups, to get the food into the hands of area residents and help relieve food insecurity in the community.

For more information, visit secure.

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