The 3000 Club: Sharing the Surplus

By Giving Hope ArizonaDecember 22, 2016

Here’s the challenge: Do something to divert the more than 30,000,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables that get thrown away annually in the landfill in Nogales, and in the process, make the less-than-perfect-but-still-edible produce available to serve the hungry and needy. 

One man eight years ago pondered this problem in search of a solution. Lon Taylor was aware of the wasted food and that the local food bank was struggling financially just to stay afloat. Taylor reasoned if 3,000 supporters could be convinced to donate $100 each per year, the food bank would have a workable operating budget. They did, and it did, under the auspices of the newly formed 3000 Club. 

As the concept grew, so did networking chapters throughout the state, all with a singular mission of rescuing dumped produce and turning what would have been potential compost into something edible. 

“Our organization is a different kind of green company,” says Nicco Punzalan of The Phoenix 3000 Club.  “We divert tons of usable food sorted out in three levels of salvage. First is produce still acceptable for commercial sale, no blemishes, no bruises. Food banks get the next level, and probably 80 percent of what we collect ends up in family food boxes. If stores or food banks can’t use it, we go to level 3, the supply base for our Market on the Move (MOM) program. Ultimately, nothing goes to waste. Even spoiled food has a purpose – it is used by farmers to feed livestock or by a commercial company that turns it into an all-natural soil enhancement product.” 

“We work hard to rescue almost anything and everything we can before it would be sent to a landfill,” says Tucson Operations/Supply Manager Pam Boyer, who spends her days in Rio Rico and Nogales seeking food donations from producers, distributors, and haulers.   

Her mission is on behalf of MOM, where The 3000 Club partners with churches and other nonprofits to host markets where semi-truck loads of produce are made available to those who ante up a 10-dollar bill to receive up to 60 pounds of food they can share with others in need.   

[MOM produce comes from distributors in Mexico via the Nogales port of entry and is seasonal. It’s anticipated that distributors will resume their contributions of over-abundant or less-than-perfect produce in late October or early November]. 

“The MOM concept of sharing has spread like wildfire,” says Punzalan. “Nobody really needs 60 pounds of squash, but that one person can share the larder with friends and extended family, and can positively affect two to five other individuals in the process.”   

Marketing the Mission 

Since its beginning, the humanitarian mission has been a word-of-mouth operation relying on volunteers to help make it happen. It’s tangible proof of the “build it and they will come” concept. If the project will benefit others, word will get out, and volunteer hands will show up to help. 

“We have companies that bring in volunteer work groups, like Humana, Wells Fargo, and Boeing, to serve as part of VTO, our Volunteer Time Off program, where companies pay the employees wage while   workers provide volunteer labor to help us accomplish our mission,” Punzalan says, acknowledging that many hands make work lighter. 

The 3000 Club does no commercial advertising, but they’ve found other ways to get the word out. They’ve been successful with minimal-effort/maximum-return in messaging via social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  

“Utilize social media as much as you can,” says Boyer. “Try to partner with organizations that have similar missions instead of competing for the same donation dollars. We’ve built strong relationships with university students and professors who espouse our ideals. Pick your board members carefully --- they need to be as active and passionate about the mission as all the other volunteers. And whenever you find an audience, talk up what you’re trying to accomplish and ask if they’d like to help.” 

Once the food portion of their recycling/reuse efforts got up and running, they then turned their attention to another need — medical supplies — giving birth to The 3000 Club’s medical reclamation project. Initially, three truckloads of unused medical supplies, nutritional supplements, and personal care products worth $2 million were rounded up, sorted, and distributed to underserved populations with critical needs. 

Trying to cover as many bases as possible, the group also maintains a thrift shop with shelves full of donated items. ranging from clothes and home improvement items to furniture and computers. 

The Phoenix and Tucson team leaders reply as one voice on their successes: “There’s still a lot of waste going on that doesn’t need to happen. We want to take it all, good and bad, and make something useful out of it.” 

3000 Club Locations:
Phoenix
1741 West Rose Garden Lane
(623) 374-2559

Tucson
350 South Toole Avenue
(520) 373-5256