Metro-East News

July 24, 2014

Donate your garden surplus to metro-east food pantries

It's that time of year when gardens are bursting full of fresh tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and more.

But if you're up to your ears in sweet corn and have more vegetables than you can handle, there's a good way to lighten your produce load and help those in need: Metro-east food pantries gladly accept fresh produce to distribute to those in need.

"We love it," said Jerry Messick, director of the Community Interfaith Food Pantry in Belleville.

Pantries no longer search for just canned goods and other non-perishables. "We can sure use the produce," Messick said.

White Experimental Farms, and extension of Southern Illinois University, provides that pantry with produce like watermelon, cantaloupe and corn, in addition to eggplant, six or seven varieties of squash and "20 different types of tomatoes," Messick said.

On Thursday, the farm donated about 85 pounds of a variety of vegetables to the food pantry.

In addition, a private gardener had donated about 160 pounds of vegetables earlier in the week, as well as a gardener who donated 12 pounds of produce.

But the pantry said it's low on basic pantry supplies. Community Interfaith serves 550-560 families per month during the summer.

Sharon Valentine, manager of the St. Clair County Health Department's environmental health division, said there is no regulation of donated produce to the food pantries.

"They take it under the Good Samaritan Act," she said, mentioning that the produce should be free of visible soil and "basically in good shape."

Manager Micaela Rodriguez said Collinsville Area Ministerial Association's Helping Hands Food Pantry also accepts fresh produce.

When the pantry has an excess of a certain vegetable, she said it provides recipes to help clients know how to cook the food.

"Someone from University of Illinois Extension comes in to educate people on the benefit of the produce," she said. "It just lets them know why they should be eating it."

For example, when the pantry has a lot of zucchini, they might provide a basic recipe and staple ingredients to make zucchini bread. In addition, they try to educate clients about the nutritional benefits of eating zucchini.

Likewise, they provide recipes for how to prepare eggplant, since many clients may not know how to cook it.

"We do not like anything to go to waste," she said.

The O'Fallon Community Food Pantry welcomes produce. In fact, the O'Fallon Community Garden grows produce with the goal of donating it to the food pantry.

"I think people appreciate the fresh stuff," said pantry volunteer Patty Strube.

She said there isn't a lot of room for excess refrigeration at the O'Fallon pantry, but most fresh vegetables from the garden survive well in room temperature.

"Any vegetable that is in excess, we like," Strube said.

She encouraged residents looking to share their excess garden produce to check with their local food pantries before dropping off a big donation.

But, in general, "pantries do appreciate them and take them," she said.

As is usual during the summertime, all donations are low at the O'Fallon pantry, Strube said. The pantry is in need of almost everything except canned green beans and macaroni and cheese, she said.

They're in need of peanut butter and jelly, ravioli, beef stew, canned vegetables, instant potatoes and more. "Truly anything," she said.

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at or 618-239-2460.

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