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NORTH OGDEN —The volunteers of the Tri-City Exchange handed out free frozen food to more than 6,200 cars Thursday as organizers suggested the event represented the “biggest street giveaway anywhere.”
Exchange co-founder Mike Larson said the cars started lining up at 11 a.m. and by Thursday afternoon, the line stretched to almost 3 miles.
“Today’s crazy!” Larson said. “It’s just drive-by, continuous, nonstop.”
Larson, the co-owner of body armor manufacturer Advanced Armor Technology, started the exchange in late March with the idea of creating a place where the needy could find products that had vanished from store shelves in the COVID-19 pandemic while donating what they don’t need themselves.
Earlier this week, however, the exchange faced an unexpected need and questions of its own.
“We got told our Nicholas trailer was going away,” Larson said. “’What are we going to do with all this food’ — I don’t have a place to put it!”
Larson said it wasn’t long, though, before he hatched the idea of a mass food giveaway — an idea that grew more ambitious with a call from a major grocery chain.
“Associated (Foods) called and said, ‘we had a trailer come that shouldn’t have — do you want it?’” Larson said. “’(It’s) all frozen.’”
By the end of the event, Larson said the exchange had given away more than 183,000 pounds of food.
“We’ve been getting calls today now from Nicholas, Associated (Foods), US Foods — ‘we hear you’re doing a giveaway,’” Larson said. “Now, our freezers will be replenished and back to where we were before we started.”
Larson said the Tri-City Exchange, which has operated on donations and out-of-pocket money from its founders, recently secured nonprofit status.
“We’re doing a funding to put a 16,000 square-foot building behind our building,” Larson said. “You’ll have shipping, receiving, intake to go to other missions, other food banks.”
He said he envisioned the organization eventually offering cooking, hygiene and life skills classes to those in need.
Five months later, Larson said he never would have imagined his idea to turn into what it was Thursday — an exchange that serves as many as 400 families per week along with 38 missions, churches and food banks.
“Somebody’s got a tear in their face saying, ‘thank you’ — how can you not say, ‘you’re welcome’ and find more,” Larson said. “We are here to stay.”