(Dec. 18, 2:30 p.m.) Each December, the Houston Food Bank looks for an extra bonus under its Christmas tree.

This year’s Gift of Produce from the Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association exceeded expectations.

The HFFVA’s annual gift totaled a little more than 1.1 million pounds this year, said John Kreger, president of the association. That’s in addition to the 100,000 pounds of produce per week that association members donate to the food bank throughout the year.

“The HFFVA is happy to be able to provide this gift of produce to the Houston Food Bank and the City of Houston,” Kreger said.

The association held a formal ceremony for the gift, which is distributed over a period of several weeks, Dec. 12 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Bryan Herr, president of Houston-based Country Fresh Inc., said being a part of the Gift of Produce gives participants a great feeling of satisfaction.

“As a group, being able to raise over a million pounds for this event really shows the heart and soul of the people and companies participating,” he said. “I have a ton of respect for their commitment.”

Besides bringing the produce industry together for a common cause, it also helps to bring fruits and vegetables to people who otherwise might not be able to afford them, he said.

“For me personally and the folks at Country Fresh, it is a way of saying thank you to all the great vendors and customers who support me day in and day out that then allows me to be able to share with others in need,” he said.

Fresh produce is an important part of the Houston Food Bank’s assistance programs, said Betsy Ballard, director of communications.

“We work really hard to ensure that we provide the most nutritious foods to the community,” she said. “The Gift of Produce is especially exciting to us because we know there will be good nutrition in the hands of the people that need it most.”

The past couple of months have been exceptional for the Houston Food Bank. Following the devastation of Hurricane Ike in September, the food bank was operating at four times its capacity, Ballard said.

In a typical year, the food bank distributes about 36 million pounds of food. Since January 2008, it has distributed 12.4 million pounds of produce, Ballard said.

“Just in disaster relief alone, we distributed more than 18 million pounds of food, in addition to our regular distributions,” she said.

At the height of the activity, the food bank distributed 900,000 pounds of food in one day.

Disaster relief supplies still are being sent to agencies serving families in the hardest hit areas, such as Galveston, Texas.

Houston Food Bank receives annual Gift of Produce
John Kreger (left to right), president of the Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable association; Greg Proctor, assistant produce merchandiser for The Kroger Co., and chairman of the Gift of Produce; Matt Winter, chairman of the Houston Food Bank; and Brian Greene, president and chief executive officer of the Houston Food Bank, accept the food bank’s annual Gift of Produce from the HFFVA at Minute Maid Park in Houston Dec. 12.