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As many families prepare for Thanksgiving feasts during the pandemic, 50 million people in the U.S. face food shortages. Berkshire Grey is partnering with City Harvest and the Greater Boston Food Bank in the Picking With Purpose initiative, which uses robots to help address this problem.
“One in seven Americans relies on food banks and related services to get food,” said Tom Wagner, founder and CEO of Berkshire Grey. “Due to COVID-19, volunteerism to support these efforts is down by more than 50%.”
The number of people seeking help from food banks has increased by 60%, including more than 18 million children, and 8 billion meals are needed to meet the increased demand, according to Feeding America.
“We are experiencing the greatest hunger crisis since the Great Depression, with a food insecurity increase in Massachusetts of 59% — the highest of any other state in the country,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Picking With Purpose seeks help to alleviate hunger
Berkshire Grey is using its systems to pick and pack large quantities of surplus food in meal boxes. The Lexington, Mass.-based company automates omnichannel fulfillment in retail, e-commerce, and logistics with artificial intelligence, robotics, and electromechanical systems such as sensors.
New York-based nonprofit City Harvest and the Greater Boston Food Bank are helping to distribute nutritious meals to families in need. In its inaugural year, the initiative expects to pick, sort, and pack 40,000 pounds of donated food to help feed 4,000 families for Thanksgiving. This is similar to the operations that Berkshire Grey assists for retailers and grocery chains.
“At a time of unprecedented and increasing need in the city, we need to do everything we can to get more food to more people,” said Jilly Stephens, CEO of City Harvest. “Berkshire Grey’s innovative technology, as well as their generous donation of food, enables us to provide Thanksgiving meals to more than 12,000 people, ensuring thousands of families have a truly Happy Thanksgiving.”
“We made a substantial commitment to the Picking With Purpose initiative,” said Steve Johnson, chief operating officer and president of Berkshire Grey. “Hunger and food insecurity are global issues that our employees are particularly passionate about. They’ll be helping by donating their time, skills, and enthusiasm under an employee volunteer initiative that’s part of the Picking With Purpose program.”
“From a financial, a technical, and a team perspective, we’re all in on this,” he added. “This is an ongoing commitment. Our vision is to continue growing this program with our partners to help serve a growing number of communities that also need our help.”
The project is looking for more volunteers and corporate partners.
“We’re looking for grocery retailers, food vendors, manufacturers, financial donors, and delivery services to help source and distribute needed goods as we expand our efforts with a diverse network of nonprofit food organizations,” said Berkshire Grey. “For individuals who wish to make a difference directly, we encourage you to volunteer at your local food pantry or food rescue organization.”