Thinking Outside the Box When COVID started, Steve Brazeel and his team at SunTerra jumped into action to feed the hungry—and they are still firm to that commitment today. By Ann Donahue “W hen I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me: ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” OK, yes, it’s the quote posted by your aunt every time our country faces a

wholesale,” Brazeel said. “Come to find out that we were significantly more reliant on the foodservice market than we ever thought we were. As it turns out, a lot of the processors we sold to, the end user was foodservice. So we got hammered just like other people did.” In the endless TV watching of that era, Brazeel remembers seeing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue unveil a program that would become a win across the board for growers, distributors and consumers. Little did Brazeel know at that time that it would also be the start of the company’s own charitable endeavor that would change lives. SunTerra’s Project FoodBox was born out of the company’s participation in that program Perdue introduced, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program. As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced in April 2020, the agency purchased and distributed agricultural products to those in need. Through five rounds of funding, $6 billion in fresh produce, dairy, meat products and seafood were bought from American growers and ranchers for distribution, and close to 175 million boxes were distributed across the country. The funding for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program ended in May 2021. But for Brazeel, it was immediately obvious that the need for fresh produce in disadvantaged communities didn’t have an end date. That’s when the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based company established Project FoodBox, which continues the mission of the Farmers to Families program by sourcing, packing and distributing boxes of fresh produce to those in need.

Its success is undeniable. Since it began, SunTerra’s Project FoodBox/Farmers to Families Program has delivered 3.3 million boxes to communities nationwide—that translates to 71 million pounds of food and 85 million meals. One of the keys to Project FoodBox is its efficiency. The produce is harvested directly from local farms to the food boxes, and then the food boxes are taken directly to the non-profit organization or faith- based community partner to distribute directly to their client base that is in need of nutritious food. It was a supply chain tested by the logistic pressures and erratic deadlines of the early days of COVID, Brazeel said. “Under the USDA’s program, once they made the announcement we had one week to come up with a proposal,” Brazeel said. “So during that week we had to reach out to non-profits, come up with a box menu of what we intended to do, come up with a weekly distribution plan and schedule for, you know, April to the end of the year…and my very first thought was ‘I don’t know anybody at a food bank. I don’t know anybody at a non-profit. I don’t even know where to begin.’” Thanks to introductions from Orange County Produce Owner/Partner A.G. Kawamura, Brazeel soon was in contact with the Orange County Food Bank and Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. “I introduced myself and asked if we could put together a proposal…and he said he would need like 20 truckloads weekly,” Brazeel said. “And I was thinking, ‘This poor guy. He must be thinking pickup truck type loads here.’ So I go, ‘You know, big trucks. Like 18 wheelers.’ And he says: ‘I know what you’re talking about. We can do 20 trucks.’”

challenge. But the sentiment still resonates for a reason—Mr. Rogers knew his stuff. Think back to the not-so-distant past, to Spring 2020 when the extent of the COVID pandemic was just starting to reveal itself. “We were all watching the same newsreels,” said Steve Brazeel, Founder and CEO of SunTerra. “Milk getting poured into a ditch, our meat processing plants being shuttered, fields being disked up and fruits and vegetables rotting in the field.” Founded in 2000, SunTerra is a grower and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables, with distribution centers in central and southern California. With their extensive delivery network, they have supplied every region west of the Mississippi River. “If you asked me before the pandemic what percentage of our business was sold to foodservice, I would have said 25 percent, and then 75 percent to retail and



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