(Dec. 13) KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a tradition that started in 1983, and this crew never strays too far from tradition.

Every year the Haun Potato Co., Merriam, Kan., donates 44,000 pounds of potatoes to the Salvation Army during the holiday season.

Every year they eat breakfast at the same greasy diner before dropping off the load. Every year the same folks — the East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Potato Grower’s Association — donate the potatoes.

And every year the event fills them with the same satisfaction.

“We just fed 8,000 people,” said Dick Haun, founder and former owner of Haun Potato, after dropping a tractor-trailer load off at the Kansas City Salvation Army Distribution Center on Dec. 7.

The potatoes go into 4,500 food baskets as part of the Salvation Army’s “Christmas Food Basket” project. The rest goes to its eight food pantries.

Haun’s donation is the only fresh food donation the Kansas City Salvation Army receives during the holidays, said Roger Alexander, director of development for the Kansas and Western Missouri division.

“The Hauns have been at this for 22 years, and we are always very thankful for their donation,” he said.

About 1,500 homeless people are on the streets and in shelters on any given night in Kansas City, he said. Children make up about 20% of that number.

Such figures illustrate why Haun Potato makes a donation every year, Dick Haun said, and also why he personally delivers about 900 pounds of fruits and vegetables — all donated by Kansas City-based shippers — to rescue missions every month.

This year’s load was donated by five companies in the grower’s association: J.G. Hall & Sons, Edinburg, N.D.; Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D.; NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D.; Ryan Potato Co., East Grand Forks, Minn.; and Moorehead, Minn.-based Mike Layton Co. Inc.

Scott’s Express & Transportation Services, Grand Forks, handled the logistics, and driver Perry Sailor and his wife, Carolyn Sailor, hauled the load.