Gardeners: Produce donations wanted

Flower and Garden Show vsitors learn about GIFT, or Give It Fresh Today which aims to give fresh fruits and vegetables to food pantries

March 13, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Ryan and Naomi Byler, left, of Greencastle, Pa., find out more about GIFT from the program's founders Bill and Pam Christoffel, right, Sunday afternoon during the Flower and Garden Show at Hagerstown Community College's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Visitors to the Flower & Garden Show at Hagerstown Community College this past weekend got more than a chance to shop for flowers, home decor and landscaping services.

Many visitors learned about a new effort to reduce hunger in Washington County by encouraging backyard gardeners to donate excess fruits and vegetables to local food pantries.

GIFT, or Give It Fresh Today, is a new effort organized by Washington County Hunger Group, which is made up of Washington County citizens, agencies and organizations, said Pam Christoffel, who was representing the group at Sunday's show.

Local food pantries "don't get much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables," Christoffel said.

Traditionally, food pantries get a lot of canned foods.

When Food Resources Inc., a regional nonprofit food warehouse, does get large donations of produce, it tends to be starchy items such as potatoes and corn, Executive Director Ruth Anne Callaham said in a phone interview Sunday.

Donations from local gardeners could add variety such as broccoli and carrots, foods that would make a good addition to the dinner table or afternoon snack for children when they get home from school, Callaham said.

"Children will eat almost anything if there is enough ranch dressing," Callaham said.

Currently, it can be cheaper to buy potato chips than fresh produce, she said.

GIFT is one of four initiatives supported by the group, which is concerned about hunger in Washington County, Christoffel said. The other initiatives deal with redistributing canned food among food pantries because some have too much while others don't have enough; trying to increase the number of summer meals available for children from low-income families; and applying to Kathryn's Kloset in Baltimore to receive household items such as cleaning supplies, diapers and toilet paper, so local food pantries can distribute them to local families in need, Christoffel said.

Group representatives expect to talk to the Washington County Commissioners about the initiatives during Tuesday's meeting, Christoffel said. Others participating in the Washington County Hunger Group include Community Action Council, United Way, REACH and Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families.

"We've given out maybe 500 fliers to people who said they were interested" in the Give It Fresh Today program, Christoffel said around lunchtime Sunday.

For more information about the program, call the Christoffels at 240-217-5979.

Flower & Garden Show Chairman John Benchoff estimated 4,400 people paid to attend the two-day show, hosted by HCC's Alumni Association, in the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center. That doesn't count children ages 12 and younger, who got in free, and many people who received free passes to the show, he said.

"I think it went great. Our vendors all seemed to feel that they really did well," Benchoff said.

That's better than during the 2010 show, when several vendors didn't think they did well, he said.

Marie Stoll, 50, of Frederick, Md., said she would donate leftover produce from her garden to GIFT, but first she has to move her garden so it's more productive. The current spot is getting too much shade.

Susy Miller, of Waynesboro, Pa., said she might participate. Miller said she believed there was a food pantry in Waynesboro and would need to see if that pantry would accept fresh produce. She said she has been giving her excess produce, such as cherry tomatoes, away or freezing it.

Jenny Martin, 53, said the GIFT program is an "excellent idea to help as much as you can with the people in the community."

"The way the economy is, everybody needs a helping hand," Martin said.

Martin said she has a small backyard garden in Hagerstown's West End. She doesn't usually have excess produce because rabbits often get into her garden.

David Peters said he hasn't had a vegetable garden recently, but plans to start a good-sized one so there will probably be plenty of produce and a chance to participate in the program.

Peters, 75, said his father-in-law, who loves to garden, recently moved in with the family off Jefferson Boulevard, so they are planning to start a backyard garden. The family probably will grow tomatoes, sweet peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and beans, he said.

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