Temperatures are getting warmer in central Illinois, and once the ground begins to dry after this rain, it will be the start of gardening season for many — a time to till the earth, plant seeds and carefully nurture what grows.
It’s also an excellent time to think about how gardening can support local efforts to relieve hunger.
Whether you realize it, chances are you’re acquainted with someone who is unsure where his or her next meal is coming from. It may be a senior citizen on your block, one of your children’s classmates, someone in your church congregation or a coworker.
In Sangamon County, about 25,000 people are “food insecure.” Of those, nearly 9,000 are children. That’s 13 percent of the population without enough food on a daily basis.
The numbers are more staggering for the 21 counties served by the Springfield-based Central Illinois Food Bank, where 110,320 people, including more than 39,000 children, are food insecure.
The food bank and pantries throughout the region are stocked with canned goods, cereal and bread, but they lack fresh, healthy produce so many of us take for granted.
So as you plan your garden for the year, whether it’s a small backyard plot, a generous country patch or an inner-city community garden, consider planting an extra row or two of fruits and vegetables to donate to your local food bank.
How big a difference can one row make for a family?
“Depends on how long the row is,” Pam Molitoris, director of the Central Illinois Food Bank, said with a hopeful laugh. “In the average garden, if you plant an extra row I would say you’ve given produce to several families.”
And don’t worry about planting any particular type of produce.
“The greatest thing people can do is grow a variety, because we all need a variety of different kinds of fruits and vegetables in our diet,” Molitoris said. “A variety of leafy vegetables, different colors, the oranges from carrots and the different colors you get from bell peppers.
People need variety in their diet. That’s the bottom line.”
With a local unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent and many working families simply unable to make ends meet, the region’s hunger issues will not go away anytime soon. Planting an extra row is a great way to help families in need, as well as to contribute to the overall healthfulness of the community.
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