Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Plant a Row for the Hungry. A Librarian at Every Table. No. 340.


Plant a Row for the Hungry

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in ten households in the United States experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. Many frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for an entire day. Approximately 25 million people, including 9.9 million children, have substandard diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. In the past year, the demand for hunger assistance has increased by 40%, and research shows that hundreds of hungry children and adults are turned away from food banks each year because of lack of resources. (More hunger statistics.)

The purpose of PAR is to create and sustain a grassroots program whereby garden writers utilize their media position with local newspapers, magazines and radio/TV programs to encourage their readers/listeners to donate their surplus garden produce to local food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations to help feed America’s hungry.

PAR’s success hinges on its people-helping-people approach. The concept is simple. There are over 70 million gardeners in the U.S. alone, many of which plant vegetables and harvest more than they can consume. If every gardener plants one extra row of vegetables and donates their surplus to local food banks and soup kitchens, a significant impact can be made on reducing hunger. Food agencies will have access to fresh produce, funds earmarked for produce can be redirected to other needed items and the hungry of America will have more and better food than is presently available.

PAR’s role is to provide focus, direction and support to volunteer committees who execute the programs at the local level. We help gather the human resources necessary to form a nucleus for a local committee. Then we provide training and direction to enable the committee to reach out into the community. Finally, we assist in coordinating the local food collection systems and monitor the volume of donations being conveyed to the soup kitchens and food banks. PAR is proving that every individual can make a difference in his/her community. (Last year, PAR had over 600 volunteer committees with an average of 45 people involved in each program totaling 27,000 volunteers!)

PAR began in Anchorage, AK, in the garden column of Jeff Lowenfels, former Garden Writers Association president, when he asked gardeners to plant a row of vegetables for Bean’s Cafe, an Anchorage soup kitchen. Since then, PAR has grown exponentially through continued media support, individual and company sponsorship, and volunteerism.

It took the first five years to reach the major milestone of a cumulative total of one million pounds of donated produce. In the next two years, a million pounds of food was donated each year. This is a significant contribution considering that each pound of food makes four meals. Last year, more than 1.3 million pounds of produce were donated generating meals for over 5.5 million needy recipients. All this has been achieved without government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape — just people helping people. PAR’s current goal is to make more than 8 million pounds of produce available to food banks, soup kitchens and service organizations by our tenth anniversary in 2004.

[Thanks to NEG for the idea].

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