Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gardeners Help the Hungry

Gardeners can help fight hunger in their community by planting more and donating extra produce to a local hunger relief organization. The Garden Writers Association Foundation promotes the Plant A Row for the Hungry campaign. “Gardeners can make a difference” by growing extra produce and donating it to a local food bank, food shelf or soup kitchen.

The Plant A Row website outlines a step by step program for conducting a local campaign to encourage the gardening community to organize and donate fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers to food shelves, food banks and soup kitchens.

Fresh produce is highly valued by food shelves and by those who rely on food shelves to help meet their basic food needs. Many food shelf recipients are home bound or live in apartments or other situations where growing their own produce is impossible. Produce is expensive to purchase, so those living with scarce food resources may not be able to afford this healthy and nutritious food. Donated produce is very welcome in these households.

If you don’t want to organize a local Plant A Row campaign, donating your own garden excess is just fine. Many gardeners, like me, love to grow things and we may not be able to use all the vegetables and fruit we produce. I have a tendency to overdo it at planting time, thinking, of course I will be able to use all those prolific pole beans and summer squash, beautiful multi-colored bell peppers and eggplant. In August, my bushel basket runneth over with more food than my small family can eat. Instead of stressing over how to use or preserve all the bounty, I bring it in to the food shelf for people who may not have the space or physical ability to garden for themselves. It is so satisfying for me to grow food for people.

So go ahead, gardeners, grow everything you want to! Grow extra on purpose and donate it to your local hunger relief organization. Check out the Get Help tab on our Second Harvest website for locations and contact information for our member food shelves and soup kitchens in this region. Give them a call to find out how much they can accept and to arrange a time to drop off your bounty.

It’s finally spring – get out there and garden! It is good for you, for the environment and for your neighbors in need.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Value of Volunteers

Volunteers are treasured every day at Second Harvest but we take the opportunity of National Volunteer Week (April 19-25) to put a value on the time that is given to the food bank. Every month between 800 and 900 volunteer hours are logged by volunteers at Second Harvest and the Grand Rapids Food Shelf. Last year, 10,400 total hours were recorded.

According to the Independent Sector the value of volunteer time is $20.25 per hour for 2008. This value is based on the average hourly earnings of all production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Independent sector takes this figure and increases it by 12 percent to estimate for fringe benefits.

This huge gift of time illustrates how crucial volunteers are to the work of Second Harvest North Central Food Bank. The staff of 10 people could not distribute over 3 million pounds of food to more than 30,000 people in north central Minnesota every year without the hundreds of people who volunteer to help get the work done.

A huge Thank You goes out to all the people who volunteer to re-pack food at the food bank, stock shelves and help clients in the food shelf, drive the small delivery truck, run food and fund drives, help with the Itasca Holiday Program, distribute the MAC & NAPS boxes, work in the Plant to Plate Garden and assist with Kids Packs to Go. Thousands of people are fed by all these efforts.

The dollar value might be $20.25, but we think our volunteers are priceless.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

From the front lines at the food shelf

The numbers of people coming for food assistance are up. As unemployment rises, people who have never needed help meeting their basic needs are finding themselves in a terrible position; they need to ask for charity in order to feed their family.

The 30 plus food shelves served by Second Harvest North Central Food Bank are reporting alarming increases in the numbers of local people coming for help. These aren’t people passing through or coming here for the “good social services system.” They are people who were donating their time or money to these same food shelves last year. Try to imagine how difficult it is to walk through the door of a food shelf in your home community and ask for help…. How many people go hungry because they just can’t make themselves ask for assistance?

On Tuesday, a woman appearing confused and distraught walked in the door of the Grand Rapids food shelf, looked around, and went back out to the parking lot. A short time later she walked in and, once again, left without talking to anyone. The third time she came in, she had finally gotten enough courage to go through the process and ask for help. She was treated with kindness and respect and left with several days worth of food for her family. What a terrible situation for this person to be in; educated, formerly employed and self sufficient, but now a food shelf recipient.

This story is being repeated at every hunger relief organization in the country right now. People are hurting. Your neighborhood food shelf is providing food and hope.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Hunger Study 2009, Finding out we know what we know

Like most of the other food banks in the Feeding America network, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank is three-quarters through a comprehensive survey of hunger in America. We are conducting face to face interviews with 300 people seeking help at over 30 different places in our region where people go for food assistance. Places like the Grand Rapids Community CafĂ©, Brainerd’s Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen, Milaca Area Pantry, Pillager Family Center, Walker Food Shelf, etc.

In addition, all our member hunger relief organizations complete a thorough questionnaire covering everything from how often they are open to how many volunteers they have. The goal is to gather solid statistical information on people seeking hunger relief and the agencies that help them. The information will help Feeding America, Second Harvest and our member agencies to tell our stories; of who we are helping and why they need our help.

I’ve done a few of these face to face interviews myself. I interviewed the mother of a large family who is employed full time but can’t make ends meet on low wages. I talked to many people with big, unpaid health care bills. And not surprisingly, I’ve met several people who just lost their jobs.

The ranks of the recently un-employed are growing and adding to the mix of people who need help feeding their families. In Grand Rapids, the unemployment rate is now at 16.4%. Itasca County is over 12%. It is heartbreaking to listen to the stories of people who have never asked for help before and always thought they could take care of themselves.
The results of this national survey will be released this fall. In the meantime, we listen and gather people’s stories that validate what we already know. People in our communities are hungry. We must help them. We need your help.