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Friends come together to get free food across US from farms to those in need

Their first shipment of potatoes from an Idaho farm is due for the Bronx.

A truck carrying 43,000 pounds of potatoes from a farm in Idaho is now bound for the Bronx, New York, to help families in need, thanks to the quick-thinking efforts of a team of friends.

John Botti of Westchester, New York, told ABC News on Thursday that he'd been watching "World News Tonight" on April 14 when he heard that farmers across the U.S. were pouring milk down the drain and watching vegetables rot in the fields -- a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world.

"I said, 'This is wrong. We need to do something,'" said Botti, a money manager.

He decided to call a few friends the next day and eventually the idea of Farms to Food Banks was born: They would send semi-trailers to the nation's farms and bring back free food to people in need.

"I saw the stark juxtaposition of American farmers having their vegetable crops go to waste due to supply chain disruption and economic collapse, while other Americans are on the brink of starvation due to food banks being overwhelmed and undersupplied," he posted on LinkedIn on April 20. "Our home state of New York and the boroughs of New York City have disproportionately borne the economic, health, and social welfare brunt of COVID-19. Many New Yorkers are very sick, out of work, have depleted their savings, and are in dire need of feeding their families to survive. ... This is a problem that we can help solve together, right now. And I invite you to help."

"Within the next 48 hours, a group of my friends will have mobilized a bootstrapped effort to transport food from farmers to food banks in the NY area. This amazing group has been creative and resourceful and is making an immediate difference," he continued in the post.

Botti was linked to cabbage farmers, potato farmers and even a woman in Mississippi with rice. By Saturday, his group had grown by a dozen more friends. They agreed to not only take the food from the farms that were going to be trashed, but to also raise money to buy the food from farmers like Ryan Cranney in Idaho.

"His generous offer of 2 million free potatoes had already been picked up by many deserving food banks and individuals out West. We were a day too late. But nonetheless, we purchased a full trailer load of 43,000 pounds of pre-washed and boxed potatoes from Cranney Farms in Idaho at wholesale pricing," Botti said in the social media post about Farms to Food Banks.

The first shipment of food -- potatoes from the Cranney Farms -- is being driven by Army veteran Dave Lemon and due to arrive to the South Bronx on Saturday. Botti said the food was heading to the East Side House Settlement in the Bronx.

Dan Diaz, the East Side House Settlement's executive director, said the organization’s mission had been primarily the community’s workforce and education. Now, he said, it's had to pivot to address the most basic of needs: hunger.

Lemon, the truck driver, told ABC News that being chosen by his company to deliver the food to New York was important to him.

"This is the only way I know how to help in this time of need, when it is truly important to help each other," he said.

Ryan Cranney of Cranney Farms told ABC News on Thursday that he appreciated what Botti and his group were doing.

"As people do kind and giving things for each other, that charitable enthusiasm can spread like wildfire," Cranney said. "I hope to continue to work together to help others during this difficult time."

Later, on Thursday, Botti told ABC News that the group had received an additional 571 donations, totaling $25,000, since "World News Tonight" had reported on its efforts. He said the group planned to buy more food to be picked up and delivered on Friday.

"This gives other people hope that as humanity, we can come together and we can come up with solutions and make a difference," Botti said. "We're lighting candles in the darkness right now."

He also credited and thanked the group's donors, including SOAR Transportation in Salt Lake City; Rotary Club of New York; Miami Club Rum; Michael Zaro of Zaro’s Family Bakery; Jon Lloyd-Jones and Hudson Stables; Fordham Prep HS Club - Build the Bronx; Cranney Farms; East Side House Settlement; and an anonymous friend.