Fresh Produce Brings Communities Together
On a sunny Saturday morning in July when many people are just starting their day, there’s activity on the wooded lawn of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minn. Staff and volunteers bag fresh produce to hand out to the community — corn, apples, watermelon, sweet potatoes, zucchini. People swap recipes and the secrets for the perfectly grilled sweet corn. Neighbors and friends catch up on each other’s lives. Kids run and swing in the park next door before their parents call them back, bags of fruits and vegetables in hand.
This lively exchange is part of Second Harvest Heartland’s Fresh Produce Distribution Partnership, now in its fifth year of operation. At countless locations in the metro area and beyond, community partners and volunteers come together to deliver an array of fresh and healthy produce, primarily from local farms, throughout the summer and into autumn. Setting up a fresh produce distribution transforms a usually quiet parking lot or side lawn into a whirring, festive market. Colorful produce line tables under the shade of tents.
While visiting fresh produce distribution sites at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church and St. Olaf Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis, staff and volunteers made it clear that they were excited about the work they were doing.
“It’s great to get this food out to those who need it,” said Michael Adams, an intern with Loaves & Fishes, working at the St. Olaf Lutheran Church fresh produce distribution site. “Volunteers help set everything up and help carry food to peoples’ cars. Our visitors really enjoy seeing the seasonal food like corn and watermelon.”
“We really like being able to get out and talk to people,” said a volunteer group from Securian Financial. The opportunity was a way to “grow as a team and to help others.”
As the distribution at Mt. Olivet is underway, Loveth Anyanwu hands out vibrant green zucchini to an incoming group of visitors. An employee of United Health, she wears a company T-shirt with her name on it. United Health’s volunteer opportunities web page brought the Fresh Produce Distribution Partnership to her attention.
“I wanted a way to connect with and give back to the community,” she said. “I get to give my time while being outside on such a beautiful day.”
A sense of community, both on a small and large scale, is a reoccurring theme at fresh produce distributions. Volunteers – individuals as well as family groups, businesses, and alumni associations – work alongside each other, sorting produce and sharing stories. Some volunteers are participating within their own neighborhood, to give back to a familiar place in a new and purposeful way. Others have chosen to volunteer in an area they may have never visited, finding neighborhood kinship extends beyond city or area code.
Anthony Zheng, a high school student from Fridley volunteers alongside Michael Adams in north Minneapolis, loading a box of corn into a woman’s car. She smiles and thanks him, saying how happy the older residents of her apartment building will be when she brings them some of the first corn of the season. Even though he had never been to St. Olaf Lutheran Church before, he plans on signing up for another volunteer opportunity at the location, saying, “It’s nice to see people looking out for each other and to be a part of it.”
Loveth also has plans on signing up for more distribution volunteering opportunities – seven over the course of the summer so far. “The environment at Mt. Olivet has been so welcoming and I enjoy interacting with people directly through good food,” she said in response to what keeps her coming back. “There’s a lot of good will between everyone here.”
Not only is September produce harvest season in the Midwest, but it’s also Hunger Action Month! Volunteer for the Double Down Challenge and every hour will be matched with a $5 donation from Bremer Bank, up to $40,000.