Commitment to distributing fresh produce helps families

Commitment to distributing fresh produce helps families

April 20, 2016 in Harvest Time Newsletter

Each week, the neighbors surrounding Weller Community Church come together to provide fresh produce for people to take home to their families.

When Ozarks Food Harvest’s truck arrives at the Springfield church to drop off the produce, volunteers Emily and Ericka work with others sorting the fruits and vegetables to prepare for the day’s distribution.

Ericka, 52, and her daughter Emily, 26, give their time every week at the Weller produce drop and work throughout the season in the nearby community garden. The mother and daughter also receive food from the distribution.

“We really appreciate it that we get a chance to get the fresh food,” Emily shared. “My one-year-old loves fresh stuff, but it’s hard to be able to afford the fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Produce gives Emily’s family a healthy option when they might otherwise be forced to purchase less expensive, unhealthy food.

“It just makes it a lot easier to be able to have healthier stuff for Dante to eat,” Emily said.

Ericka is diabetic and suffers from lung disease, so the fresh produce helps improve her health significantly.

“It’s hard for me not to have fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet,” Ericka said.

“This really helps a lot because it’s difficult to provide a healthy diet for your family.”

This struggle is a harsh reality for the 87 percent of people served by The Food Bank who report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food because they cannot afford healthier options. Ozarks Food Harvest is committed to providing these families with fresh, nutrient-rich food.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are the most requested item by those in need. Over the past few years, Food Bank staff have worked hard to double the amount of produce it distributes in southwest Missouri.

Today, nearly 25 percent of all the food distributed by The Food Bank is fresh produce.

This produce is provided in part by Ozarks Food Harvest’s Full Circle Gardens program — a combination of initiatives that help strengthen local access to food assistance.

“We get volunteers involved harvesting produce from local gardens, we supply excess produce through supplemental produce drops and the Plant-a-Row initiative raises awareness that we need a lot of produce to be able to distribute four million pounds of it every year,” Christy Claybaker, The Food Bank’s community engagement coordinator, said about Full Circle Gardens.

Supplemental produce distributions allow for a year-round supply of fresh produce to people in need in area  neighborhoods when community gardens are not in harvesting season.

Springfield Community Gardens, in partnership with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, work to distribute the produce that Ozarks Food Harvest supplies to the Weller neighborhood.

“It’s really a matter of increasing access to fresh produce in the neighborhoods,” Claybaker shared. “The program gets everyone back to the philosophy of taking care of one another at a neighborhood level.”

The success of the program depends on partnerships throughout the community working together to ensure more people have access to fresh produce.

In 2015, over 143,000 pounds of produce were distributed through the supplemental produce drop program at the Weller church and in the Grant Beach neighborhood.

The community can help improve access to fruits and vegetables by planting seeds in their own gardens and donating the produce grown directly to Ozarks Food Harvest.

If you have a garden, consider planting an extra row for hungry individuals that would normally go without the benefits of produce.

The Plant-a-Row initiative allows people in neighborhoods across the Ozarks to come together and help ensure everyone has access to healthier food.

Erica said, “If everyone could grow vegetables that would be amazing because there’s a huge need.”