Deacon Forrest Murray, Jr. spends every day in grocery stores—but the San Rafael local isn’t comparing produce prices, or shopping around for deals. He’s picking up produce, hygiene products and other home essentials to distribute to the needy via churches and various locations all over the city.
Starting in 2008, Murray’s organization, Blessings Food Ministries, entered a partnership with San Rafael’s Safeways, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods markets to collect produce and canned goods that were nearing their shelf lives for distribution to the city’s needy. “Many stores have a ‘sell-by’ date that’s different from the expiration date,” Murray explains. “[Stores] give me these products so they can still be useful to someone.”
This process of gathering and distributing food before it goes bad is called gleaning. Originally a biblical practice of donating unwanted grain to the hungry, today’s contributions can include canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables and meat products. Safeway even donates personal hygiene products like toothpaste, deodorant and even kid’s toys. When Murray and his volunteers aren’t at a supermarket, they’re at the local churches, food pantries and other predetermined locations, setting up a farmers market-style display. “We don’t prepackage the food and distribute it in paper bags. Instead, people can see what we have to offer and choose what they want. We monitor the booths and help people find what they need,” he says.
Currently, the deacon spends most of his time in his van, driving from location to location and setting up his wares. “Hopefully, that will change soon when I open up a little barbecue joint downtown,” he says. “That’ll give me a dedicated space for helping people in the future. “
Though he received the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award in 2010 from the Marin Human Rights Commission, Murray doesn’t operate out of material recognition. “I receive no funding, and I’m not here to be admired. There are hungry people out there, and hearing them say, ‘God bless you’ with a full load of groceries in their arms is worth more than any dollar,” he says.
To make a donation or find out about volunteer opportunities at Blessings Food Ministries, call Murray at (415)-847-4883 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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