Hole Food Rescue pickup

Following an emergency closure of restaurants and bars across the valley, Hole Food Rescue volunteer Caitlin King makes a pick-up March 18 at Caldera House in Teton Village. Organizations across the valley jumped into action as the coronavirus began to shut down much of the economy.

Hole Food Rescue has new leadership, but operations haven’t missed a beat.

The food-saving nonprofit — which rescues surplus goods from local grocery stores and restaurants and turns them over to the community — is bringing in record batches of eggs and recently added a new van to its fleet.

When the program’s founder, Ali Milburn, stepped down last season, longtime volunteer Lisa Lent stepped into her place.

“Many lives have been touched as a result of Ali’s passion, determination and kindness,” Lent wrote in the nonprofit’s annual report. “From this foundation we are evolving and enhancing our programs to further help our community thrive.”

With much of Teton County freshly vaccinated, Hole Food Rescue is also expanding its volunteer cohort and starting a new round of orientation.

Overseeing that effort is the recently promoted volunteer coordinator, Ivan Jimenez, who also serves as Hole Food Rescue’s director of operations.

Just a week into his new role on Wednesday, Jimenez was unloading buckets of citrus and directing the flow of volunteers at the no-cost grocery program by the Blair Place Apartments.

“Don’t be timid,” Jimenez said. “We’d rather it nourish you than the compost.”

Within minutes after everything was set up, a small crowd had gathered, neighbors greeting each other by name as they picked up vibrant bouquets of rescued flowers.

“Basil too, man? How rad,” said Taylor Upton, a Jackson resident who Jimenez had already managed to recruit into the volunteer effort.

Upton thought the program sounded too good to be true when he first heard about it. Seeing the overflowing tables of produce, pastries and fresh herbs, he said it was “the greatest thing ever.”

This month has been particularly busy for the program, as many local restaurants like Hand Fire Pizza downsized goods for the offseason.

The offerings are a bit different every day. On Wednesday there was a cooler of meat from Smith’s and a barrel of batteries from Whole Foods.

“They’re D’s, so not super convenient,” Jimenez joked.

His easy rapport with all of the participants, in both English and Spanish, gives the program a fun and friendly vibe.

“Say ‘Thanks, Ivan, ” Upton said to his two young kids as they left for the day.

“Thanks, Ivan!” they said with a wave.

Jimenez emphasized Hole Food Rescue is not a charity service. Everyone involved is participating in the solution of reducing food waste.

The volunteer rescuers are out every day collecting from Smith’s, Albertsons and the new Whole Foods. If they weren’t there to pick up items like eggs, which keep well after their expiration date, those goods would be tossed.

That rescued food also fills a key need in a county where 10% of residents struggle with food insecurity.

The program has grown organically, Jiminez said, spreading through word of mouth and an email list that now has about 100 recipients.

Grayfia Reynolds was there Wednesday, picking up a couple of pastries and a bouquet of flowers for her daughter’s birthday, which is this Friday.

“If you need a cake, you know where to find us,” Jimenez said with a smile.

Contact Evan Robinson-Johnson at 732-5901 or erj@jhnewsandguide.com.

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