Giving Garden Helps Fill Pantries' Need for Better Nutrition
Daday, Eileen O., Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Eileen O. Daday Daily Herald Correspondent By Eileen O. Daday Daily Herald Correspondent
Food pantries are evolving as the need from families and individuals hit hard by the recession continues to grow.
What once were backrooms filled with shelves of canned goods and nonperishable food items gradually has turned into more of a shopping experience for patrons, who fill grocery bags themselves as they choose what food items they would like.
With that trend comes another upgrade in the model; food pantries are becoming more like markets as they receive more fresh fruits and vegetables from local gardeners.
For more than 10 years, the Daily Herald has encouraged local gardeners to open up their yards -- and their hearts -- to the less fortunate by participating in its Giving Garden program. The campaign encourages donations of fresh produce to area food pantries.
This summer's program begins this weekend and runs through the end of September, with more than 50 food pantries across Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties, eager to accept the summer's harvest.
"It's absolutely great," says Debbie Walusiak of the Des Plaines Self-Help Pantry. "We really depend on it to help feed our families."
With the weakened economy, pantry officials across the suburbs are seeing numbers soaring, consequently they are relying on gardeners to help them provide nutritious fruits and vegetables to families struggling to make ends meet.
Take the food pantry operated by officials with Cuba Township in Barrington. They have developed a "market" once a week, which they set up in the township boardroom.
That's when they offer fresh produce to clients, as well as surplus items from Trader Joe's and Panera.
"We display everything in baskets," says Kate Formichella. "We always have meat, bread, cheeses, salads and fresh produce, supplied in part by the people from The Smart Farm in Barrington.
"We do it up big," Formichella adds. "It's really taken off; we're swamped."
Being able to provide fresh food -- over and above the non-perishables they take pre-orders for every month -- was the catalyst.
More and more, food pantry coordinators see their role as not only providing basic food items to help people get by, but they are taking responsibility for ramping up the nutritional needs of their clientele. …