October is one of my favorite months. The temperatures begin to cool down. The rich purple flowers of fall-blooming colchicums and crocuses burst from the ground like the royal goblets of garden gnomes. Asters brighten woodlands, prairies, roadsides, and alleys with thousands of miniature stars. Maples, ashes, redbuds, and witch hazels don their brilliant autumn coats in shades of scarlet and gold. And summer vegetable plants are weighted down with their bounty.
As the season draws to a close, gardeners typically find themselves with an abundance of produce. Tomato plants that ran wild in August are now loaded with fruits at all levels of ripeness. Basil plants are bushy. Pepper plants strain under the weight of all their chiles. In a good year the garden will often supply more than one family can use. Like most gardeners, I use as much of my harvest as I can, give some away to neighbors, and still have extras that are sometimes ruined by frost. A much better option is to donate the food to a local food bank.
Food depositories provide produce to millions of Americans every year, and the need is greater than it has been in a long time. Throughout the country, the numbers of visits to food pantries are increasing. Rising costs of food and other expenses, such as fuel, have put a squeeze on many budgets. Surprisingly, in a country with so many farms and gardens, fresh produce continues to be a rare commodity among many sectors of society, including the working poor, the elderly, and impoverished children.
Photo by Kate Jerome
Feeding America is an organization with the mission "to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and to engage our country in the fight to end hunger." There is not a nobler mission, nor one better suited to gardeners. The organization needs volunteers and money, in addition to fresh produce.
Carol Schneider of the Food Bank for New York City says that approximately 85 percent of the staff in food pantries across the nation are volunteers. People are needed for various tasks including packing and preparing foods.
If schedules don't allow for volunteering, then cash donations are a good substitute, especially since food banks are experts at stretching a dollar. They are able to buy food at wholesale prices, so it's more economical to give them money through their Web sites than to go to the store and buy groceries to donate.
So celebrate a successful gardening season and help your neighbors. As autumn settles in, consider sharing the fruits of your gardening labors with those less fortunate. There are safeguards and regulations for donating fresh fruits and vegetables, so check with your local food bank to determine what is acceptable and when to deliver it. For instance, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Catawba, North Carolina, accepts all produce, but only on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. With over 200 food banks and over 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens, there is bound to be one in your area. Visit Feeding America's Web site and enter your zip code to find a location nearest you.