BPNN refrigerated van

Volunteers Gregg and Jan Weaver proudly show off the new refrigerated van Badger Prairie Needs Network has purchased for pick-ups and deliveries. The funding came from a grant from the Walmart Foundation.

The Badger Prairie Needs Network has purchased its first vehicle, through a $51,500 grant from the Walmart Foundation, which will allow them to effectively transport unused food from local food donors.

BPNN was one of 13 food banks nationally chosen to receive funding from hundreds of applicants. The funds had to be used to build food bank volunteer and agency capacity, according to a Walmart Foundation news release.

BPNN used the money to purchase a refrigerated van to help collect food from area grocery and convenience stores that provide close-to-expiration foods such as meats, produce and dairy products.

Before purchasing the van, volunteers used 36 personal vehicles to collect food, presenting a concern for food safety in unrefrigerated vehicles. Last year, around 200,000 pounds of food collected required immediate refrigeration, preventing BPNN from collecting food outside of a 30-minute drive.

The van will allow volunteers to pick up more food for repackaging. Donated food that is close to expiration is reheated and flash-cooled or frozen, extending the expiration date often by a week.

Another benefit of the van is BPNN can now distribute food to smaller pantries, and also might help bring on new volunteers, since not all volunteers can bear the expense of using their private vehicles for pickups.

BPNN estimates they have had over 800 people volunteer in the past two years, providing a combined 40,000 volunteer hours.

Neal Patten can be contacted at neal.patten@wcinet.com.