Olive Garden helps relieve hunger through Olive Garden Harvest

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2016

By Amanda Raymond


When Olive Garden has perfectly good, extra food, the restaurant doesn’t just discard it.

General Manager Russ Garland said they wrap the food up, rapidly chill it, label and weigh it and then get it ready for transport.

Then every week, Rowan Helping Ministries’ Second Helping Drivers pick up the food and deliver it to Rowan Helping Ministries. Volunteers then weigh the food, prepare it and serve the community.

“I know that Rowan County has a need, and I’m proud that we can be just a part of that,” Garland said.

Olive Garden has been helping to relieve hunger in local communities since 2003. Through the Olive Harden Harvest program, local community food banks receive high-quality food items to help feed community members in need.

Garland said the restaurants donate overproduced food that is still fresh.

“Anything that I would serve to a guest who came in here at 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night that was still good, that we just had too much of,” Garland said.

Olive Garden also partners with Feeding America and donates meals through the Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program to help feed families affected by natural disasters, according to the restaurant’s website.

Since 2009, Garland said, his restaurant has donated 62,700 pounds of food, or 52,000 meals. The eight restaurants in the Charlotte market have donated more than 500,000 pounds over the years, he said.

Garland said the restaurant has also been partnering with Long Horn to give a $1,000 community grant each to Rowan Helping Ministries for the past couple of years.

Nate Valentine, food manager, said Rowan Helping Ministries serves about 300 to 380 meals daily out of Jeannie’s Kitchen. All of those meals are prepared using donated food.

“It’s a big impact because as soon as we get the food, we put it to use within a day or two,” Valentine said.

Garland said the restaurant probably used to discard extra food because there was no guarantee of how organizations would handle the food. The Olive Garden Harvest program ensures that the food is handled safely and responsibly.

Sometimes the restaurant donates more than just surplus food. The restaurant recently donated unused product from a ravioli promotion that just ended. On Tuesday, Donald Myers, a culinary professional, was bagging and labeling frozen six-ounce sirloin steaks.

Valentine said Garland is always willing to help donate food for Rowan Helping Ministries’ fundraisers, and the people who enjoy meals from Jeannie’s Kitchen can always tell it’s Olive Garden.

“Word will get around that they’re serving Olive Garden,” he said. “We tend to get more people coming to lunch.”

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.