Gardeners help deliver produce to hungry pantries

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Mike Lonergan is the epitome of what the University of Illinois Extension expects of a backyard gardener.

He is a lifelong gardener who enjoys growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. Her family uses what they can, donating some to friends and neighbors, and also donates a generous amount of produce to area pantries.

“The food bank is more important than ever with all of the economic issues such as high inflation in the cost of food and other household expenses and gasoline costs affecting people these days,” said Lonergan, who donated an additional 75 pounds of food on Thursday.


As vegetable gardens bloom and harvest is already underway, extension officials remind gardeners that if they have a surplus of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, corn or other produce, many keep -eating are equipped to receive donations of fresh produce.

As Capt. Chris Clarke of the Salvation Army in Jacksonville said, “We have produce stands available every day, but we’ll never have enough.”

Extension in Morgan County wants more home gardeners to “be like Mike” and become a steady source of fresh produce for pantry customers.

“It’s a step-by-step process, but I think we’re getting closer to where we want to be,” said Melinda Vortman, Snap-Ed program coordinator for Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan and Scott counties. “Our role is to help provide fresh produce to people who need it.”

Vortman is excited about the program to attract more donors so more fresh produce is available.

“Fruits and vegetables don’t contain salt and are the healthiest foods you can eat,” Vortman said. “Low-income groups have problems with diabetes because of their diet. If we work together as a community, we can overcome this and help people eat healthier. Just because there’s a lot of food in the pantries doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for it.

Lonergan’s day job is vice president of loans at Farm Credit Illinois in Jacksonville, but he also finds time to grow a variety of produce in his garden, including corn, tomatoes, beets, green beans, cucumbers , zucchini, cantaloupes, watermelons and strawberries.

He started when he was young. Along with his five siblings, he helped maintain a half-acre garden.

“Anyone who was able to help did so,” Lonergan said. “We grew corn, green beans, radishes, lettuce and sold much of what we didn’t eat. When the kids moved out, our parents took the surplus to the farmers’ markets.

When Lonergan moved into her current home in 2007, there was plenty of room for gardening and her children raised vegetables as well as animals that they showed in 4-H.

“We always had plenty and sold to local grocery stores and farmers markets. We don’t do as much with farmers markets, so what we don’t eat, we take to the food bank,” Lonergan said.

The Jacksonville-area food center has been accepting and supplying fresh produce for at least five years, administrator Melissa Hall said. “Participation has increased. We have regular donors who regularly bring us products. »

“Farmers and gardeners have already brought in zucchini, squash, green beans, peas and carrots this season,” Hall said. “Our customers love it.”

Hall said the center would take the products in any way possible and people would bring them in any way. They accept all fresh food donations from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Clarke from the Salvation Army tells a similar story.

“Any product we can get, we take. We have volunteers picking up produce from grocery stores, but we have people bringing produce to us. The more we spread the word, the more we can give,” Clarke said.

“Buying fresh produce is one of those things that can be expensive for people and a lot of people skip it because of the cost and they get macaroni and cheese instead,” Clarke said. “Providing products is good for the community.”

The Salvation Army accepts donations during the week and no appointment is necessary.

“The gift of vegetable crops starts with connecting with a local food pantry,” said Staci Coussens, an educator in the Extension Snap-Ed program at the University of Illinois at Champaign. “Donors can find a list of pantries that will accept products at ampleharvest.org.”

Pantries that accept donations of fresh produce include: The Salvation Army, 331 W. Douglas Ave. ; Jacksonville Area Food Center, 316 E. State St.; Murrayville-Woodson Pantry, 501 Main Street, Murrayville; Naples Food Pantry, 202 McNair St., Naples; Auburn Food Pantry, 125 E. Washington Ave., Auburn; Pike County, 120 S. Madison St., Pittsfield; and Brown County, 206 SW Cross St., Mount Sterling.

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