CHARLESTOWN— A new truck is making a big difference for the Rhode Island Center Assisting those in Need. Refrigerated, fuel efficient and equipped with a power rear lift gate, the new diesel-powered “retail rescue” truck will be the star of Saturday’s Customer Appreciation Day at RICAN headquarters. The new vehicle replaces the center’s old truck, which was more than 10 years old and in constant need of expensive repairs.
RICAN board president Catherine Fox said the truck was purchased with a donation from the Walmart Foundation.
“The Walmart Foundation gave the grant money to the Rhode Island Food Bank, and the Rhode Island Food Bank picked us to be the recipient,” she said.
The truck was custom built for RICAN.
“It took them about four months to design it,” Fox said. “It was specially designed just for us. It’s a very long process, because first they build the cab, then they have to build the box, then they have to put the refer [refrigerator] unit on, then they have to put on the tailgate that automatically goes up and down.”
RICAN founded the retail rescue program in 2011. The goal is to pick up surplus food, including perishable items such as meat, dairy and produce, and get it to families in need.
“I am proud to say that we are rescuing about 30,000 pounds of food a month,” Fox said.
Most of RICAN’s clients, who numbered 20,000 in 2018, are from Westerly, Hopkinton, Charlestown, Richmond, and South Kingstown. Food, more than 300,000 pounds of it last year, is collected or “rescued” from retail stores, wholesalers, and local food drives and stored at the center’s 6,200-square food food pantry, which includes several large refrigerators and freezers.
In addition to Walmart, RICAN receives support from Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, and several retailers including Job Lot in Richmond and the new Richmond Farms Fresh market.
“We’re always looking, we’re always exploring ways we can find other retailers that we can rescue from,” Fox said.
Fox noted that the food RICAN collects and distributes is top quality, not store rejects. “We think it’s really important for people to understand when you talk about things that are called ‘rescue’ that they’re healthy, nutritional, fresh items,” she said.
RICAN’s food pantry at 805 Alton Carolina Road in Charlestown is open every week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with supplemental food from the retail rescue program available on Friday afternoons.
“We’re very proud we’re a weekly food pantry, and we’re client choice, so people shop for themselves,” Fox said. “We’re very proud of feeding people, but we’re also proud of stopping food waste. Forty percent of all food in the United States gets thrown away.”
RICAN driver Rob Wood and assistant Leroy Church head out in the truck every morning, five days a week, to pick up food.
Wood said he was happy to be driving a new vehicle and especially appreciates the lift gate.
“It’s probably saved my back, more than anything,” he said. “We’ll pick up literally tons of food that has to be off-loaded, sorted, separated, obviously, placed in the correct place and it’s a lot of lifting. Load it right up, no falling over, no losing food off the back of the lift. This is just really nice.”
Fox said she was grateful to the community for supporting the center, whose staff is 95 percent volunteer.
“We don’t get any federal funding. We don’t get any state funding. We’re an independent 501(c)(3)," she said, referring to its tax-exempt status.
The new truck will be on display at RICAN's Customer Appreciation Day on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The thrift shop will be offering discounts throughout the day and there will be a gift basket raffle and special sale, along with crafts for adults and children. More information is available at: wwwrhodeislandcan.org