(Dec. 22) Potato companies are getting into the holiday spirit, donating their products to food banks across the country to help feed the hungry.

In Kansas City, Haun Potato Co., Merriam, Kan., celebrated its silver anniversary of holiday giving, organizing a donation of 42,000 pounds of Red River Valley potatoes to the Kansas City Salvation Army, owner David Haun said.

“We’ve done it every year, for 25 consecutive years,” Haun said. “This year, we hit the million-dollar mark, so it was a little special. But it’s just a benchmark for us. Last year’s load was just as important to the needy.”

Delivered on Wednesday, Dec. 10, in a truck owned by Kunkel Truck Lines, Brandon, S.D., the potatoes will be used to prepare more than 4,500 individual family food baskets, and for the Salvation Army’s feeding program, which prepares meals daily, Haun said.

“When we had breakfast with those people at Salvation Army, they’re feeding almost 600 people a day,” Haun said. “It doesn’t take much work to figure out those spuds go a long way when they were at the (Salvation Army’s) warehouse in two days.”

Several grower-members of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, Antigo, helped the Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin feed low-income families.

“Recognizing the adverse affects of the economy, times are already tough for families, which is why a few Wisconsin potato growers and shippers wanted to help our neighbors by donating potatoes,” association executive director Duane Maatz said. “We’re providing a wholesome, nutritious food product, and challenge anyone who can help to donate to Second Harvest.”

The association coordinated the potato shipment to Madison for delivery to the food bank.

On the West Coast, Rotary First Harvest, Seattle, had received almost 750,000 pounds of fresh potatoes by mid-December for food warehouses.

Companies including Puget Sound Potato, Burlington, Wash., and Wallace Farms, Burlington, donated potatoes, and the food bank also receives assistance from local companies that donate trucks to move the potatoes, said executive director David Bobanick.

“We’ll see in a year well over a million pounds of potatoes in the food bank system,” Bobanick said. “It tends to be the mix of the high-end potatoes grown for grocery stores, the red potatoes and the yukons. We get the grade Bs, with cosmetic anomalies, but they’re still nutritious.”

Potato growers will typically donate an entire truckload of potatoes, around 40,000 pounds, at a time, Bobanick said.

Donations have been particularly important in rural areas, Bobanick said, where unemployment rates are higher because of a slow economy.

While donations are most visible during the holiday season, many of these potato companies are involved with food banks year-round, Haun said.

“Everybody that I know in produce is donating food, every day almost,” Haun said. “These people we work with, it’s kind of a big deal for them. And this is the high point of what we give every year.

“But one thing I know, everyone we deal with is (donating) stuff too,” he said.

Companies that donated through the Haun Potato program are O.C. Schulz & Sons Inc., Crystal, N.D.; Tri-Campbell Farms, Grafton, N.D.; J.G. Hall & Sons, Edinburg; Associated Potato Growers Inc., Grand Forks, N.D.; Northern Valley Growers LLC, Hoople, N.D.; NoKota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D.; A&L Potato Co., East Grand Forks, Minn.; Ryan Potato Co., East Grand Forks; and Hull Co., Big Lake, Minn.

Potato companies feed the hungry
NBC Action News interviews David Haun, owner of Haun Potato Co., Merriam, Kan., about the company’s 25-year history of giving holiday donations of potatoes to charity. Haun says the company this year was able to donate 42,000 pounds of potatoes to the Kansas City Salvation Army.