With spring crops already grown and summer harvests on the way, now is a great time to plan what to do with all that extra produce you will have.
Too many zucchinis? An herb garden bursting with mint and basil? Strawberries by the bushel? An apple tree that drives you nuts every fall? Take all your excess garden bounty and donate it to a local food pantry, says Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org.
AmpleHarvest.org, a national nonprofit organization, has created a food network that educates, encourages and enables gardeners with extra produce to donate their surplus to a local food pantry. The organization offers an online directory, searchable by ZIP code.
According to Oppenheimer, one out of six Americans experience food insecurity—meaning they do not have enough to eat—while, as a country, Americans on average throw away a pound of food a person per day.
“The problem in the United States is not that we lack food, it is that we waste food, “ said Oppenheimer who founded AmpleHarvest.org in 2009.
In 2010, according to a survey completed by 460 pantries in the AmpleHarvest.org network, the pantries received more than 700,00 pounds of local produce.
One of the local pantries listed on AmpleHarvest.org is the Living Word Bible Fellowship pantry in Blackwood.
In the first quarter of this year, the Living Word Food Pantry has provided food for more than 3,000 people.
“Last year we had a significant amount of fresh produce, both from the community and from the South Jersey Food Bank allocation,” said Benjamin Coates, who has been coordinating the Living Word pantry since 2001. “This year, because of funding cuts, we no longer receive a significant supply of produce.”
A healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables is a cornerstone of good nutrition. Before AmpleHarvest.org, fresh produce was relatively unavailable to local food pantries. Issues like lack of refrigeration and community knowledge of food banks limited supply.
AmpleHarvest.org is also a way for food pantries to communicate with the local community about actual needs—such as specific types of food. Many food pantries are strictly volunteer-run, on small budgets and do not have websites or mechanisms to reach out to potential donors.
Gardeners can help spread the word about AmpleHarvest.org by posting fliers at garden centers, sharing information on social-networking sites, linking up existing food pantries with the organization's directory, and, of course, donating excess crops, no matter how big or small.
“Your donation gets mixed with other donations. It is not how much you donate, but that you donate,” says Oppenheimer.
Living Word Bible Fellowship is located at 133 W. Church St. in Blackwood. The best time to drop off fresh produce is the second and fourth Saturdays of the month between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. In addition to produce, Coates says the pantry is always in need of spaghetti sauce and canned vegetables, such as green beans and peas. If you need to arrange another drop-off time, just give Coates a call at 856-848-9520.
Living World Bible Fellowship also has a clothing ministry, open at the same time as the food pantry. All clothing is free to those who need it.
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