Morrie Orth takes groceries donated by markets to food share
Proudly wearing a West Albany High baseball cap, Morrie Orth is a man on a mission as he moves quickly through the grocery aisles at the Albany Albertsons store.
He’s headed for a huge cooler in the far back corner of the building.
Orth, 54, loads containers filled with packaged meats onto a two-wheeled cart and retraces his route back to a 16-foot refrigerated truck parked by the front sidewalk. He quickly unloads the goods and heads back inside for more
Assistant store manager Brian Bliege — a 1998 South Albany graduate — said Orth is a welcome visitor, always cheerful. The store has donated more than 94,000 pounds of goods since June 2011 to a Linn Benton Food Share program called Fresh Alliance.
Bliege said his staff pulls items nearing their expiration date and sets them aside for Orth to pick up (meats are frozen).
It’s a scene the former 54-year-old Albany resident replays dozens of times Monday, Wednesday and Friday at markets in Albany, Corvallis and Lebanon as the driver for the program.
His days start early. He’s on the road by 4:30 a.m.
The markets donate food that is about to reach its expiration date. Meat, cheese, candy, potato chips, frozen pizzas, ice cream: You name it and Orth will pick it up and deliver it to local food banks and soup kitchens.
His goal: return to the Food Share warehouse with an empty truck.
“It’s a great job. Lots of good stuff comes out of these places,” Orth said. “I love the people at the stores and the people I deliver to.”
Orth spent more than 30 years as a technician at Hewlett-Packard in Corvallis and then three years with Nike.
“Getting out of industry has been great,” Orth said.
Orth said food stays in the community where it is picked up. He drives 80 to 100 miles per day.
Within minutes of his pickup at Albertsons, Orth backs his truck onto a landing at Fish of Albany, where he is greeted by volunteer Bob Hanslovan.
“Hey, Bob, do you need any salad today?” Orth asks.
“No salad, but I can use those frozen pizzas,” Hanslovan replied. “And how about those eggs, and those potato chips?”
Orth suggests Hanslovan take one of several boxes of chocolates, but Hanslovan refuses, saying with a chuckle, “I’m on a diet.”
Fish director Annette Hobbs has high praise for Orth and the Fresh Alliance program.
“The fresh goods add so much variety to our food boxes,” Hobbs said. “It really helps stretch our non-perishable goods as well.”
Hobbs said Fish provides 385 food boxes per month.
“Morrie is very much appreciated,” Hobbs said.
Orth is so dedicated he runs his route even on holidays, and in the last 4½ years has seldom taken a sick day, according to Ryan McCambridge, Food Share coordinator.
McCambridge said the Fresh Alliance has greatly improved the nutritional value of food boxes and soup kitchen dishes by adding the fresh meats and other items to the usual canned and dry goods offered.
Although the canned items are important, they often contain heavy syrups and high sodium content.
Participating stores are Walmart in Albany and Lebanon; Market of Choice, Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer, and Albertsons in Corvallis; and Albertsons, Fred Meyer and Ray’s Market in Albany.
Since June 2011, stores and the Oregon State University food service have donated more than 872,000 pounds of food, McCambridge said. The program has operated about eight years.
OSU operates Food Rescue, which donates prepared food that goes unused at the university’s dining halls.
“This food is still perfectly good to eat,” McCambridge said. “They can have it for dinner that day. We realize that we need to capture food where it is.”
McCambridge said the program received part of its startup funding as a grant from the Department of Environmental Quality.
“They realize that a large percentage of material that ends up in landfills is food,” McCambridge said. “This program helps remove a huge amount of perfectly good food from ending up there.”
Customers can also donate cash to the Fresh Alliance program. Call 541-752-1010 for more information.