AMES, Iowa – Food pantries have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking assistance, with many pantries setting all-time records this fall for clients served. Volunteers with the Master Gardener Program with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach responded to this need by donating fresh produce to food pantries throughout the state.
As part of the Growing Together Iowa Mini-Grant project, 33 Iowa counties grew 114,793 pounds of fruits and vegetables that were donated to 115 food pantries and distribution sites serving almost 67,000 Iowans. The counties worked closely with local food pantries to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables that met the unique needs of clients served. Bilingual nutrition education materials, such as recipe cards, were also distributed with the produce.
“The garden volunteers worked hard this year to meet the significant need at pantries. It is a difficult time in Iowa to be nutrition insecure with the increased cost of food and the ending of additional SNAP benefits provided during the pandemic. Offering fresh produce to food pantry clients frees up SNAP dollars to use on other foods,” said Katie Sorrell, extension education specialist and project manager for Growing Together.
Mini-grants are supported by United States Department of Agriculture SNAP-Ed funds. This year, additional funds were provided by Amerigroup. The Growing Together Iowa projects also leveraged an additional $81,000 from local community donations.
Over 3,000 volunteers contributed to this year’s Growing Together projects, including 321 Master Gardener volunteers. The projects received the support of a record-setting 1,920 youth and 764 community members who were not Master Gardener volunteers.
“It’s great to see a strong community response to help neighbors in need during these tough times. This program couldn’t work without many hands and local buy-in. These donations make a world of difference for individuals in need, and it is uplifting to see the community come together to support these efforts,” said Alicia Herzog, statewide Master Gardener coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach.
This year, Growing Together Iowa partnered with Reiman Gardens, home of the Story County Plant a Row for the Hungry program. In addition to the Growing Together Iowa project numbers, Plant a Row volunteers donated over 10,000 pounds of produce to Ames food pantries, including SHOP, the campus food pantry serving Iowa State students.
The gardens provided donations in an unprecedented season for food pantries. Morgan Hoenig, an ISU Extension and Outreach local foods coordinator in Des Moines County stated, “There is more need in our community than we would have ever guessed. Many of the pantries that we donated to said that they were having a hard time getting fresh produce from their suppliers, so our donations were always much appreciated and often went out into the hands of food pantry clients within hours of being donated.”
For more information about the donation gardens, contact Katie Sorrell at 515-644-6817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shareable photo: Growing Together Iowa volunteers with donated produce