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Gift Box

Richard Dabruzzi developed a vacuum chamber to test the usability of donated, dented canned goods. Photograph by Katie Rowe

December 22, 2010

Gift Box
One volunteer turns engineering expertise into a smart solution for the Lowcountry Food Bank

Written by Lauren B. Johnson

As mall parking lots overflow with last-minute holiday shoppers and postal workers put in overtime to deliver preciously wrapped packages, there’s no doubt that it’s the season of giving. And over at the Lowcountry Food Bank (LCFB), one volunteer has demonstrated just how powerful giving of one’s self can be.

Kiawah Island resident Richard Dabruzzi has been donating his time to LCFB for years, often volunteering in the reclamation center. There, workers visually inspect cans from food drives and private donors, weeding out any whose “best by” dates have passed or that are damaged in some way. For fear of contamination, the standard directive for dented cans has always been “when in doubt, throw it out.” As a result, tens of thousands of cans of food—a good bit of it still good—made their way into landfills rather than to Tricounty families in need. So Dabruzzi, who has a background in engineering, put his creativity and his knowledge into gear and formed an idea for a vacuum chamber to test suspect cans.

Constructed onsite with money gained from fundraisers, Dabruzzi’s invention offers a simple method for checking the viability of damaged goods. After the chamber is loaded and locked down, air is sucked out of the interior, applying negative pressure to the dented cans. “If there are any structural integrity problems with the can, it will ‘spit up’,” explains Ilze Astad, LCFB director of development and programs. Usable cans, which stand up to the vacuum, can easily be identified and put back into circulation at the food bank. “We’ve found that about 76 percent of the cans actually come out [of the chamber] in good shape,” says Dabruzzi. This year alone, that equaled roughly 40,000 pounds of food, or 33,000 meals.

“We are seeing more volunteers with major expertise that can be applied to our organization,” says Astad of the food bank’s shifting volunteer profile. Perhaps in this season of goodwill towards man, we could all take a moment to think outside of the box (or inside, in Dabruzzi’s case) on ways to give back to our community.

*Look for a list of resources to get you started giving back in the New Year in the January 2011 issue of Charleston magazine.

To read the Generation Next profile on Ilze Astad, click here.

To peruse our Charitable Events Calendar, click here.



Wed, 12/22/2010