In 1982, Norm Hillis, a banker and member of the Rotary Club of the University District, urged his fellow club members to find a way to help hungry people in the community.
The first projects borrowed from the old Victory Garden that gained popularity in World War II. Backyard gardeners around around the area planted extra produce that was then collected at local fire stations and delivered to programs (mainly in churches) that were helping to feed families and individuals in need.
In 1983, Norm, with the help of Mike Shanahan, grew the new concept into a Rotary District 5030 project. Mike, who was Chief of Police for the University of WA, used an “all points bulletin” to encourage law enforcement officials across WA state to help locate produce that was going to waste. Within days, Mike received calls from officials reporting tens of thousands of pounds of produce available and told Mike to “come and get ’em.” Using his phone and his Rotary connections, Mike found donated trucking to pick up the produce and bring it back to the Seattle area for distribution. This model of collaboration to connect existing resources for produce recovery still guides our work today.
Over the years, many remarkable individuals have been involved with building Rotary First Harvest – all with the same goal of providing healthy fruits and vegetables to those in need.