Stop for a minute and remember how good those home grown tomatoes tasted last summer. Did you pick fresh greens for your summer salads? How about that fresh pesto you served when company came for dinner? Now think of never having fresh veggies or fruit, but everything from a can. It isnít my intention to make you feel bad, but to encourage you to plan now to grow a bit of extra for sharing this coming year, and to think beyond the wonderful tomato. Food pantries and soups kitchens across the country can use the bounty of your garden to spice up the life of their customers.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 20, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in ten households in the United States experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for an entire day. Approximately 25 million people, including 9.9 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. In the past year, the demand for hunger assistance has increased by 40%, and research shows that hundreds of hungry children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources.” 
With rising prices everywhere you turn, I don’t need to tell you how hard it can be to make ends meet. Demands at food pantries continue to increase every year. There are several kinds of food pantries and kitchens that can use your extras.
Some food pantries are open daily or certain days of the week. They have a storage area (usually small) and fill a bag or two at a time when customers come in. Other pantries have a distribution center set up where volunteers come in once a week (for example), sort and fill boxes and bags, and distribute all of the food to a set group of customers. Some soup kitchens have tables and chairs for eat in service, while others take food to shut-ins, or a combination of the two. Many churches have small pantries, and the local police or social workers know the families who need our help.
Tomatoes are always welcome, but frequently they are the only fresh vegetable donated (that and giant zucchinis). Vegetables you might consider adding are the durable vegetables such as beans, potatoes or squash (don’t let it get too big!), cucumbers, peppers, onions and radishes. If you have fruit trees, plan to share the extras. Apples don’t have to be perfect to make pie!
If you have a small patio or garden in pots, add one or two extras if you can. Soup kitchens rarely have the extra funds to buy fresh herbs; how much better does a big bowl of vegetable beef soup taste with fresh rosemary? For a special treat, put several items in a brown bag, and include a simple recipe on the front using these ingredients, such as green beans, an onion and a few potatoes. YUM!
Extra seeds can be traded here on Dave’s Garden to help keep your costs lower. Perhaps you can purchase bean seeds while a friend buys the peppers. Most seed packs come with plenty for two or three small gardens. Get together with your gardening friends to organize who plants what so the hungry in your area get a nice selection of red, green, yellow and orange vegetables, or fresh salad ingredients.
Because no two organizations are exactly alike, it would be a good idea to check with the pantry before bringing your extra produce. Rarely do they have large storage areas and refrigerators, so the produce needs to be used quickly. Unfortunately, some kitchens are no longer allowed to accept produce (for safety reasons). Make that phone call first, so food doesn’t go to waste, especially if you have a large quantity. If you can bring in extra grocery bags, that is always a great help.
To find a pantry or kitchen near you, check with your city government, school or church, or go to the Second Harvest web site. Look around your neighborhood, remembering that 1 of 10 families have a need at some time in their life. A person who needs extra food might be right next door.
Footnotes:  Garden Writers Association Web site, PAR 11/23/07 Pictures by DG Members: GardenGuyKin, greersfolly, cgarvin and bebop2
About Cathy M Wallace
I'm rediscovering the joy of being in the garden, playing in the compost, remembering gardens from my childhood and dreaming of those to come. Physical challenges are helping me learn all about raised beds, lasagna gardening and new tools. In addition to our yard, my husband and I take care of several gardens at church. We love our family, friends, travel, writing & laughing.