Last week, I read a story in the Portland Press Herald that was perfect for this Philanthropy Friday series. The story, written by Avery Yale Kamila, was about how businesses in Maine were using employee-managed gardens to help stock local food pantries.
Not only are companies like Harvard Pilgrim and Idexx Laboratories donating fresh produce from these corporate gardens to food pantries all around Maine, they are also finding that involved employees are happier and working better as a team.
The neat thing is that you don’t need a big garden to yield a lot of fresh produce. The story noted that more than 500 pounds of fresh vegetables were harvested from just 10 raised organic garden beds last year at Idexx.
I started to think about all those neighbors, former co-workers and well meaning friends and family members who have pushed their extra cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini on me in the past. How many people think about donating their extra garden veggies to the local soup kitchen or food pantry?
Nicole Holt, development assistant at Preble Street in Portland, tells me the need for food in Maine is dire. Preble Street operates 3 soup kitchens and serves 1,000 meals a day. They distribute emergency groceries to 150 families at its weekly food pantry. And the need in the community has grown dramatically: Maine now ranks second in the nation for very low food security (hunger).
A few stats to ponder: Currently Maine is only serving 16% of children eligible to receive a free meal in the summer. In 1977, there were 3 food pantries open in southern Maine. Today, there are 80 food pantries. 21% of food pantries report that their numbers have more than doubled, and 82% of food pantries have had to make some type of cutback, either giving less food or even turning people away. (Read more stats from Preble Street)
According to Nicole, “really fresh produce is so important to creating nutritious meals, and we need all the help we can get from everyone in the community to supply the needs of our hungry neighbors.”
Whether you are in Maine or not, there are people who are hungry in your community. They are your neighbors. Next time you have some extra veggies from your garden, bring them on over to your local food pantry.
Kinda makes you want to start cultivating that garden, doesn’t it?