Image of the back of a van.
CARL SPENCER/ Flickr

Every Friday when Scott Seger gets home from work, he eats dinner with his family. After that, it is almost 6 p.m., and he and his teenage sons retrieve a 17-passenger van from their church, remove the seats and add coolers.

They travel to three grocery stores during that night, coasting through Virginia, Maryland and the District. At each store there are piles of food just past or on its expiration date waiting for them. Sometimes Seger and his sons must scan and pack away all of the food themselves, while other times the stores take the extra time to do it. By the time they pile the food into the van and deliver it to various churches and organizations for redistribution, it is usually 2 a.m.

It is a lot of work, Seger said. “You almost have to be crazy to do this.”

It’s difficult to find volunteers for a Friday night, when people would rather see a movie or spend time with family, Seger mused. In an organization run entirely by volunteers, Celestial Manna has been gathering food from local stores for nearly 20 years.

“Our organization fills the gap for food that would go in the garbage,” Seger said.

On a typical night of collecting food, Seger will fill the church van from top to bottom, front to back with food. He estimates that it weighs around 10,000 pounds. Much of the food includes bakery items such as bread and bagels that, by store standards, are not the absolute freshest but still have a considerable shelf life.

Seger then brings the food to different church kitchens that redistribute the food to hungry members of the community.

“If you give someone one loaf of bread, you could save them money for a gallon of gas, and for someone struggling, that could be a big thing,” Seger said.