Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: SuperFood wants folks to donate healthful foods

SuperFood Drive founder Ruthi Solari shows off some healthy non-perishable options in the supermarket.
SuperFood Drive founder Ruthi Solari shows off some healthy non-perishable options in the supermarket.

Ruthi Solari didn’t set out to launch a nationwide nonprofit organization, but her SuperFood Drive just seemed to grow and grow.

“I started by trying to organize a local food drive to collect healthy, nonperishable items,” said Solari, a clinical nutritionist in San Diego. “It was that simple and that small. It was like the healthy swaps we make in our own diets. Instead of donating a can of refried beans, donate black beans. (Give) brown rice instead of white. Look for fruit (canned) in its own juice instead of high-fructose syrup. Small changes can make a significant difference in health. Why not help those who are struggling to eat healthier?”

That philosophy has helped SuperFood Drive spread from its San Diego birthplace throughout California and east to New Jersey, New York, Florida and Minnesota. Food banks and pantries have embraced the concept of encouraging “healthier” donations. Aimed at schools, churches, clubs and other groups that typically sponsor food drives, the SuperFood Drive model also helps teach kids and parents about better nutrition, too.

March is National Nutrition Month, which has helped put the spotlight on Solari’s group effort.

Q: What is the SuperFood Drive?

A: It’s a nonprofit I founded in 2009 as a response to what we were seeing in the Great Recession. More people were dependent on food banks. Also, there’s a huge increase in obesity and diabetes. Our organization works with food banks and food pantries to raise awareness about healthy eating. It’s not enough to just fill empty stomachs; we should look at what we’re putting in those stomachs …

Q: How does SuperFood Drive work with food banks?

A: We support food banks and pantries to make the shift to offering better nutrition to their clients. We help organize healthy food drives. Instead of just reaching to the back of your cupboard for a box of mac and cheese or can of (high sodium) soup, we encourage people to give the “gift of health,” look for healthier options. We offer resources (online) to teach nutrition and encourage people to eat healthier. We distribute healthy recipes …

What started as a regional effort has gone national. It really seems like a natural. It’s part of the changing landscape of hunger relief. There are more than 300 food banks and 90,000 smaller food pantries – and most report not having enough resources. About 50 million Americans are dependent upon them. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; there’s already a distribution system in place. What we’re trying to do is help people in need have access to healthier food.

Q: What was your inspiration?

A: Seeing the need: the rising rate of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. This is the first generation of children whose life expectancy is less than their parents. We have all this awareness about how what we put in our bodies can affect our health, but how do we help people in need?

Q: What’s been the biggest obstacle?

A: The biggest myth is that healthy options are more expensive than less-healthy food. But that’s not true. You may need to shop around, but you can find deals – brown rice for the same price as white, whole wheat pasta instead of plain.

Q: How can people get involved?

A: Reach out to your local food bank or food pantry. Check out our website – One of the best ways to be involved during National Nutrition Month is to think about your own nutritional needs, then think about your neighbors in need. At your work or place of worship, organize your own healthy food drive.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Ruthi Solari

Founder, SuperFood Drive

This Southern California clinical nutritionist is trying to help the health of the less-fortunate by improving the quality of food available at food banks and pantries.