A local philanthropist will donate $1 million to the Capital Area Food Bank on Tuesday, enabling the Washington region’s main provider of food for the poor to eliminate its month-old fee for fresh produce.
William E. Conway Jr., co-founder and managing director of the Washington-based private equity firm the Carlyle Group, said he decided to make the donation after reading a June report that said because of rising food costs, the food bank would start charging its members 10 cents per pound for fruits and vegetables.
“I had fresh produce last night with dinner. I had blueberries this morning with my cereal. It’s a luxury for some people,” Conway said in a phone interview. “I wanted to try to help.”
The food bank, the region’s primary source for more than 700 food pantries and other nonprofit organizations, saw the cost of acquiring fresh produce increase 31 percent this year, officials said. At the same time, 66 percent of its clients said they hoped to expand their fresh-produce offerings.
“We were faced with so many daunting circumstances. It’s like a heavy rock being lifted off,” said food bank President Lynn Brantley. “The low-income community is so lacking in healthful, good, fresh, affordable produce.”
Conway, 61, who lives in McLean, will announce the gift at a ceremony Tuesday at the construction site of the food bank’s $37 million, 120,000-square-foot facility at 4900 Puerto Rico Ave. NE. The project was jump-started by Conway’s last donation to the food bank, a $5 million gift he made in November.
“I thought, if I’m going to try to solve one problem, we ought to really be working to try to solve another problem, too,” said Conway, who ranks 182nd on the Forbes 400 list of America’s richest people, with a net worth of more than $2 billion.
Brantley said Conway’s donation will reimburse clients for any charges since the fee took effect at the beginning of this month and will buy the food bank another year to find a long-term solution, which may include new sources of funding and food.
“We went a million dollars over budget last year. We can’t keep operating if we keep doing that,” Brantley said.
The food bank distributed a record 30 million pounds of food this fiscal year, up from 27 million last year. Fresh produce makes up a growing share of that total — 46 percent, or more than 13 million pounds.
George A. Jones, director of Bread for the City, the District’s largest food pantry, said the elimination of the food bank’s produce fee will save his organization $4,000, which is enough to provide healthy food to about 400 needy families as part of a new emphasis on nutrition.
“Just a handful of years ago, food pantries in general were focused on hunger and just getting food into people’s hands, mouths and bellies,” Jones said. “As noble as it sounds to feed people, we realized on a national level that if people don’t eat right, you’re not really saving that person anything.”