(Dec. 18) Since the group’s inception 20 years ago, the Houston Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association’s annual December donation — dubbed the “Gift of Produce” — has grown from 40,000 pounds to 1.4 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The association presented the donation to the Houston Food Bank during a Dec. 8 presentation at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

The food bank serves 400 member agencies in 18 counties in southeast Texas, and the association’s donation is extremely beneficial to the needy who receive the fruits and veggies, said Brian Greene, the food bank’s chief executive officer.

“The food bank is emphasizing more and more the health aspect of the food we distribute, and produce, we are working hard to have that be a larger and larger portion,” Greene said. “Right now it’s one-third of what we distribute, and we want that to grow.

“It’s a very critical donation for us.”

Initially, the association received contributions solely from local retailers, but it has gained assistance from several nationwide produce companies and retailers, including Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc., West Village Lake, Calif.-based Dole, Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. and Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., helping to swell the association’s donation to more than one million pounds of produce each year, for the past six years.