Each November, the bus bay at VIP Tour & Charter Co. in Portland, Maine, fills up with potatoes, which are delivered to food pantries, soup kitchens and other social service organizations throughout southern Maine.
The tradition began 15 years ago when Jason Briggs, VIP’s vice president of business development, had an idea. Instead of sending out greeting cards to business associates, why not a bag of Maine spuds?
Before he went to work for one of that state’s biggest motorcoach operators 32 years ago, Briggs spent some time on potato farms where he helped harvest the vegetable.
He maintained his connection to the industry through his longtime friend Bob Davis, who co-owns the Maine Farmers Exchange in Presque Isle, where he grew up. Briggs got in touch with Davis and ordered a pallet of freshly harvested Maine potatoes.
Davis sent him a single pallet of potatoes. It weighed a ton and was divided into 200 10-pound bags. So after he gave everyone on his greeting card list a bag of potatoes, there was plenty leftover inside the large garage bay at VIP Tour & Charter.
Briggs decided to give the remainder to a nearby food pantry and a soup kitchen.
“One soup kitchen uses about 750 pounds of potatoes a week, so that’s a lot of potatoes,” he said.
An annual tradition
The next year, Briggs had more potatoes to share with food pantries and soup kitchens, because he ordered two pallets. And the following year, three.
This tradition became the subject of a heartwarming holiday column by Bill Nemitz in the Portland Press Herald.
“It’s greatly appreciated,” Don Morrison, operations manager for Wayside Food Programs, told Nemitz recently after picking up the second of two tons of potatoes from Briggs. “We accept every donation – no matter how big or small.”
Last year, VIP’s bay was overflowing when Briggs unexpectedly received 50,000 pounds of potatoes – 10 times more than he had ordered. Fortunately, his transportation know-how helped him deliver all of them to Maine food pantries, where they provided countless meals for those in need.