KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The bouquets at Edible Arrangements are not made of flowers, but fruit. For every pricey, pretty arrangement the company creates and delivers, some fruit gets wasted.
“We have the most waste with pineapple,” says employee Brian Paul. “It’s the way our machine works. We cut the pineapples into hearts and daisies.”
However, thanks to a rescue operation organized by Society of St. Andrew, pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, and strawberries that would otherwise go into the trash are now salvaged to feed inner-city children and the homeless.
“It’s a shame to waste it. Who doesn’t want pineapple?” says Mike Smith, a member at Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville. “So many people don’t get fresh fruit.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, volunteers from Concord church go to the west Knoxville business to collect buckets of fresh fruit – about 85 pounds each trip, says Smith. The fruit is delivered to different organizations including Knox Area Rescue Ministries, Volunteer Ministry Center, Love Kitchen, Salvation Army, Positively Living, and Water Angels Ministry.
“It only takes about 1 ½ hours of our time to get 85 pounds of absolutely fantastic pineapple to give to kids in need,” said Smith, on a day when he delivered fruit to 53 children in the after-school program at Wesley House Community Center.
Smith enlists five additional volunteers from his own church to go on twice-weekly rescue missions at Edible Arrangements, two volunteers at a time.
A retired trucking company administrator, Smith became acquainted with the Society of St. Andrew during his recent stint as president of the Holston Conference United Methodist Men. He’s known for organizing massive gleaning projects for the Society of St. Andrew, the 34-year-old organization that exists to rescue food for the hungry.
“I got these facts [from the Food Research and Action Center] last week,” Smith says. “Knoxville is the 26th hungriest metro area in the U.S. The state of Tennessee is the sixth hungriest state in the nation.”
In March, Smith helped the Society of St. Andrew save 38,500 pounds of sweet potatoes from going into a landfill because they weren’t high-quality enough to sell commercially. Instead, the sweet potatoes were transported from a farm in Fayetteville, Tenn., dumped on the Concord church parking lot, bagged by volunteers, and distributed to 22 food pantries in 11 counties.
Smith has organized similar distributions with food gleaned from farms and businesses, involving volunteers from different denominations to move cabbage, green beans, watermelon, tomatoes and even yogurt to area pantries and soup kitchens.
Since the Concord volunteers started collecting fruit from Edible Arrangements in December 2012, they’ve distributed almost 2,000 pounds of fruit, about 400 pounds per month, according to Linda Tozer, Society of St. Andrew project coordinator.
“You can tell it’s good, because they eat it right up,” said Tony Vega, recently accepting buckets of fresh pineapple from Concord volunteers. Vega is a cook at Knox Area Rescue Ministries, serving 900 meals to the homeless every day.
Pam Arnett, a Concord member and frequent fruit-rescuer, tells how the children at Wesley House responded when bright yellow rings of pineapple recently appeared as an after-school snack.
“The kids preferred pineapple over cookies,” said Arnett, a registered nurse. “That’s something people need to know.”
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.