Then, amid Brazeel’s shock, he called Second Harvest. And they told him the same thing. Fifteen to 20 truckloads—yes, big trucks—a week. “I live here in Newport Beach,” Brazeel said. “And there is the conception of Orange County and the reality of the situation is very different. In Orange County, they need 40 truckloads…and I haven’t even called anybody else.” Those initial two phone calls did lead to other introductions to organizations dealing with food insecurity in other regions. Within a week, the USDA approved Brazeel’s proposal to deliver food boxes throughout the Southwest U.S., and within another week his team did it—boxes went out to Palm Springs, Imperial Valley, Yuma, Ariz.—even the Navajo Nation and other tribal lands, where they eventually delivered more than 250,000 boxes. “If you remember at the time there was controversy around some contractors maybe not doing the job as well as others,” Brazeel said. “What really separated us was that we took this seriously…we were so grateful. We were so thankful for the opportunity that we called our team together, and we said: ‘We are going to make these boxes so good, that if any one of us or any one we know open up this SunTerra box, it’s going to be as good as something that they would have chosen at the grocery store.” When the funding for the Farmers to Families Food Box officially ended in May 2021, there was no doubt that Brazeel and his team would find a way to continue the program. Between the relationships forged

during the peak of the pandemic and the efficiencies developed to meet high- pressure, quick-turnaround demand for product, Project Food Box was here to stay as part of the SunTerra Family. “It was like we shoved 10 years’ worth of innovation in a one-year period,” Brazeel said. But, above and beyond that, it was just the right thing to do. Project FoodBox was born and now operates with the assistance of The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which is a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans by providing food assistance at no cost. “We really made this part of our business and dedicated resources to continuing to do it for two reasons,” Brazeel said.

“One, it was just a really fun thing to do. And secondly, our teams found that we were uniquely qualified to do this type of work. I think that the program really had two phases. The first phase was direct pandemic relief. But within months, it became apparent that it was less about that and more about the nutritional crisis and people in these communities not having access to these fresh fruits and vegetables.” Just remember: Look for the helpers. And know that even after those dramatic times of pressing crisis—the best helpers will stick around. To learn more about how to partner with Project FoodBox, please visit projectfoodbox.org/join-the-project/

Steve Brazeel with Mark Lowry, Director of the OC Food Bank



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