(KRON) — Fresh produce is essential when feeding the community, but what happens to donated items that can’t be put in a donation bag? The Redwood Empire Food Bank has launched a new program to put those donations to good use.

“Sometimes, we’ll take mushrooms and shred ‘em, make it like shredded chicken,” explained Chef Don Nolan.

Thinking outside the bag is what Chef Nolan does best, inside the Redwood Empire Food Bank Kitchen.

 “Mainly, I want to pack as much nutrition into the meals as I can, as much fresh ingredients as I can,” said Nolan.

Chef Nolan and a group of volunteers whip up hundreds of meals a day, using ingredients that might otherwise not be used.

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“Today we’re making a kale and carmelized onion bolani, which is an Afghan flatbread, serving with a yogurt and carrot arata,” Nolan said. 

“We take donated food that was otherwise not going to make it in the marketplace and make it better than it was when it arrived and turn it into something more beneficial, more nutritious,” said David Goodman, CEO of Redwood Empire Food Bank.

 Goodman worked with Chef Nolan to create the “On the Spot Nutrition” program.

“Rather than simply providing them with groceries they take home and prepare, we decided we wanted to feed the line,” Goodman said.

“Typically, we do one dish all week.. so we end up with about 25 hundred meals of the same item,” said Nolan.

 Those fresh made meals are then packaged and sent to a distribution center where they’re handed out on the spot.

Shiloh Neighborhood Church in Santa Rosa is one of many such distribution sites. While folks wait in line for food, they’re being fed to.

 “I think it’s brilliant because I haven’t eaten today, so this is going to hit the spot for sure,” said Veronica, a volunteer. 

Veronica volunteers for the food bank, but when the pandemic hit, she found herself in the distribution line. This was her first time getting a meal on the spot.

“I am enjoying this quite a bit,” she said. “I don’t know what’s in this sauce but it tastes really nice,” she said.

“We do a lot more volume in the kitchen now,” Chef Nolan said.

Redwood Empire Food Bank is currently feeding about 18,000 households a month. That’s up from 10,000 a month prior to the pandemic. With inflation and gas prices so high, the food bank is once again seeing an increase in need.

“We serve people that have nothing, all the way up to someone who has a reasonable amount of income, but it’s costly to live in this area. and right now, people are deciding if they should put breakfast, lunch and dinner into the gas tank to get themselves where they need to go,” said Goodman.

Volunteers are handing out meals and grocery bags at over 300 distributions each month. Chef Nolan says making the fresh meals is more than gratifying.

“We cook with our hearts and our souls,” he said. “When we make a meal for someone it shows we care for them.”