Front Burner Blog

Charlie's Produce is a Local Institution

Stories are powerful ways to see the impact of your actions. As a part of our 2014 Accountability Report we wanted you to see the impact your support makes for people across Western Washington. Here is the second of those stories - a profile about how Charlie Billow decided to work with Food Lifeline to find homes for food in need.

Charlie’s Produce supplies restaurants and grocery stores all over the state with fresh fruits and vegetables, but with their high volume comes some waste. That’s why CEO Charlie Billow came looking for Food Lifeline nearly 30 years ago.

“We needed a place to send produce we couldn’t sell, but was still good food. We didn’t want it going to waste. Food Lifeline gave us a place to turn.”

But it wasn’t just the idea of rescuing his produce that sold Charlie on Food Lifeline, it was the ability to get that food to hungry people.

“We support Food Lifeline because they have far more reach than other organizations. They supply more than 275 food banks. Think about that. There aren’t too many grocery chains that have that many stores in this market.”

While he sounds every bit the successful businessman, Charlie has a reason for helping that’s much closer to his heart, and his history.

“I’m from a family that at one point was hungry. And we relied on food stamps to live. We had seven kids and no father in the house — so the issue of hunger resonates with me.”

The experience taught Charlie that hunger can happen to anyone, at any time. So even though he works every day surrounded by beautiful fruits and vegetables, he’s keenly aware that hunger is hiding everywhere.

“The need is much bigger than we would admit to as a community. Hunger doesn’t stop because you fed someone once or twice. Or even if you feed them for a month. It’s an ongoing community problem that’s going to be tough for years and years,” says Charlie.

Last year alone, Charlie’s Produce donated 230,000 pounds of nutritious fruits and vegetables. That’s almost 200,000 meals created for hungry people. In addition to food donations, Charlie and his wife Courtni are also financial supporters of Food Lifeline, helping to create an even larger network of hunger relief.

And for those who are thinking about getting involved, Charlie is adamant.

“I challenge anybody — any business leader, and donor — to come see what Food Lifeline is doing. Come and see the sorting — go to a food bank and see the process, take a look at the scheduling and logistics that goes into supplying all these food banks. Then you will understand the need and how well equipped Food Lifeline is to tackle the problem.”

And what is the reward one can expect for such kindness? Charlie says, “We get lots of love and we feel it every day.”

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