While Olive Garden in Turlock welcomes a hearty customer flow every day of the week, Thursdays at the local restaurant are known for serving guests of a different kind.
As part of the Olive Garden Harvest program, General Manager Ron Ghaffari said that each day the Turlock restaurant employees anticipate how much ingredients they are going to need in order to make sure they have enough food on hand for their customers. In the event that the restaurant prepares too much food, however, they don’t throw it away.
Instead, they seal the surplus, fresh and unused food in bags, label them and store them for United Samaritans Foundation, which picks up the donation on a weekly basis. Ghaffari said that his restaurant donates 35 to 55 pounds of food each week on average.
“We donate sauces, lasagnas, chicken, sausages, meatballs, but mostly soups,” said Ghaffari. “We treat the people United Samaritans Foundation serves like our own guests by making sure the food is safe and secure. I can say that they are always excited for pickup on Thursdays.”
USF Chief Operations Manager Maris Sturtevant, who made her weekly stop at Olive Garden on Thursday with Warehouse Manager Russell Burkhart, said that once USF gathers the surplus food from the restaurant, they sort the donations and place them in the freezer.
“When we have enough collected, we put what we can together and prepare a meal,” said Sturtevant. “This gives a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to otherwise come eat at Olive Garden a chance to try some of their food.”
“Everybody who has tried to food has loved it,” added Burkhart.
As the largest nonprofit food distributor in Stanislaus County, USF provides three hot meals and two sandwich meals Monday through Friday and has done so since 1995. The organization serves approximately 1,500 meals to men, women, children and seniors each day at 43 locations in nine local communities.
“Anyone who comes to our trucks gets a meal,” said Burkhart.
To date, Olive Garden restaurants nationwide have donated more than 33 million pounds of food to local community food bands since the Harvest program’s inception in 2003. Of that amount, 15,000 pounds, or approximately 12,500 meals, has been donated by the Turlock restaurant since its opening in 2012.