Originally printed in the July 2020 issue of Produce Business.
As wholesalers in the produce industry, we spend our lives adapting to changing markets. So, of course, we weren’t going to let anything stand in our way of supporting those who have grown to count on us, who needed our help now more than ever.
Produce companies in the Hunts Point Produce Market have transformed the way we support those in need over the past few months. We’re very involved with the local NYC community, from philanthropic organizations and food banks, to schools, summer camps and little league teams, and so much more. We needed to make a big pivot; but adapting to change is what we do best, and we knew we could help.
Many of our longtime partners, such as City Harvest, Feeding Westchester and Food Bank for New York City, did an amazing job working with us, and increased the number of trips they made to the market so they could provide produce to more people in need. We also worked with the borough presidents and council members to set up mini distribution operations around the community. The market supplied the produce, and the officials created a direct line to the families so we could reach more people.
Things didn’t stop there. We used this same model and continued to expand further and further into the community. We engaged local schools that we worked with prior to COVID, but rather than donating healthy lunch add-ons or delicious after-school snacks like we usually do, we turned their cafeterias into staging areas to bag fresh produce for local families to bring home instead.
Restaurants that we sell to closed down at first, but we were able to work with some as they transformed themselves into catering businesses that donated prepared meals to those in need, as well as the frontline workers helping our community through these trying times. Churches and community centers were doing similar things.
A produce wholesaler is really a logistical agent; we move product and information all throughout the supply chain. COVID has been a true testament to how well we can adapt and direct product to the end user, especially under tough circumstances.
At S. Katzman Produce, our phones were ringing off the hook as businesses continued to close, and more and more people were in need of help. I’ve always said that a produce wholesaler is really a logistical agent; we move product and information all throughout the supply chain. COVID has been a true testament to how well we can adapt and direct product to the end user, especially under tough circumstances.
Being able to help those in need was just one piece of the puzzle. We understood that the major responsibility we had during the first few months of unknown chaos was to make sure we kept the food supply chain running so people could eat. I can’t even imagine what would have happened if the food had stopped coming on top of everything else. (Really stop and think about that for a moment… think about the craziness around toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and what things would have been like if people couldn’t get food.)
Of course, there were challenges and occasional empty supermarket shelves, but our industry did a great job — from farm to fork, keeping the world fed without a doubt – and it saved us from even more unimaginable times.
It’s been great to partner with our neighbors in the market to get the job done. Companies that are normally competitors have now been working hand in hand for a greater good. Internally, many companies were very shorthanded themselves, yet they still managed to find the personnel and time to pitch in to help others.
Different organizations in the community that may normally have never come together not only found each other but were also able to build relationships on the fly and get things done quickly. It was truly inspiring to be part of it in a time of need.
There is never a time I am not honored to be a part of this industry, but I can say without any doubt that I have never been prouder than the past few months, and as I continue to hear so many stories like ours where people are helping each other just because they can!
Stefanie Katzman is executive vice president of S. Katzman Produce Inc., Katzman Berry Corp., Sharkey’s Trucking Inc. and co-owner of MamaMia Produce and Bad Apple. She began her produce career right out of High School in 2001 working summers for the family business in the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, NY. She works alongside her father, Stephen Katzman who is president and owner of the businesses, continuing to lead the amazing team of about 370 employees that make up the Katzman staff today.