Helen verDuin Palit developed the Harvest concept in 1981 while managing Yale University’s Dwight Hall Soup Kitchen in New Haven, CT. One day after work she stopped in a restaurant across the street for a drink and an order of potato skins.
What, she wondered, happened to the insides of those potatoes? She found her way back to the kitchen, and asked the chef. He told her that every morning the kitchen threw away what it couldn’t use. The next morning, thirty gallons of potatoes found their way from the restaurant to the soup kitchen and into the soup.
Inspired, Helen founded the New Haven Food Salvage Project and began contacting other local food companies for donations. The response was overwhelming. Soon so much food was being delivered that Helen was directing the surplus to other soup kitchens and shelters.
The New York Times reported on her success. Mayor Ed Koch from New York City saw the story. Intrigued, he called and told her that there was nothing like her program in New York City. Then he asked if she thought that she could expand the model to work in the five boroughs. On December 8, 1982 Helen opened the doors to City Harvest, the world’s second food rescue program. Immediately people started calling, and they haven’t stopped for twenty-eight years.
The press was quick to report the success of City Harvest. People immediately grasped the difference that a Harvest program could make in their communities. By 1989, sixteen programs were using Helen’s Harvest model across the United States and Canada. President Bush nominated Helen as the Fourth Point Of Light for her work, and gave her the mandate to assist other communities in creating their own programs. More people kept calling and writing for information and support.
Inspired by her nomination, and overwhelmed by the interest from other communities, Helen and the Board of Directors decided to create a non-profit that focused exclusively on program development. And so America Harvest was born in 1990 so no one who wanted to start a new program has to re-invent the wheel.
In recognition of her steadfast commitment to the cause of hunger, Helen verDuin Palit was nominated for the 2009 World Food Prize. The prize is given annually to an individual who has advanced human development by significantly contributing to the world food supply.