SALEM - Some area residents in need are enjoying a bountiful harvest of vegetables this year thanks to the gardening know-how of some Salem Community Pantry volunteers.
"I've always had a green thumb," volunteer Millard Michael said.
He said he's never had a garden the size of the one he tended this summer, though, and actually did some research and read a couple of gardening books to prepare. Salem area resident Doug Shutler, who had donated some tomatoes to the pantry last year, offered the 1-acre plot off of Seacrest and Garfield roads for the pantry's use.
Salem Community Pantry volunteer Millard Michael shows off some vegetables he harvested from the pantry’s new garden this year to give away to families in need. So far, volunteers have picked over 5,000 pounds of produce from the one-acre plot located just outside of Salem and donated for their use by Doug Shutler. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
"It's been a blessing," pantry Director Cliff Votaw said.
So far, the garden has yielded about 3,500 pounds of tomatoes, 600 pounds of green beans, 200 pounds of peppers, 300 pounds of zucchini and 350 pounds of cucumbers, along with onions, yellow squash, cantaloupe and potatoes - more than 5,000 pounds of produce for the pantry at no cost.
Michael, who took the lead on the project, explained that he planted different varieties of tomatoes, beans and peppers, including a pepper brand he called "a little ball of fire."
"If you eat one, good luck," he said with a grin.
The First Christian Church donated funds to cover part of the expenses to buy plants and Shutler donated the rest, with his well used to keep the garden irrigated. He also helped plant and other volunteers helped with the weeding and picking. Michael said he spent about three days a week watering. The work began in April to get the land prepped.
He said they don't have a lot of tools, so if anyone wants to donate anything, they'll take it. They're planning to have a garden again next year.
Votaw said the people who rely on the pantry love getting the fresh vegetables because it's something they don't normally get. Michael said they've also given them tips on how to prepare the vegetables and even the volunteers have been exchanging recipes.
Both Michael and Votaw commented how the pantry is a community effort, with Votaw adding, "Salem's taking care of their own."
None of the vegetables go to waste, with some of the product that's not good put out for someone who picks it up to feed to animals.
The pantry located at the corner of Third Street and Vine Avenue serves about 250 families per week. Families can come twice a month and receive six to eight days worth of food, based on family size.
The hours the pantry is open for distribution are 9 to 11:30 a.m. Monday and Friday and 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Visitors use a shopping cart and a volunteer takes them around so they can choose what they want, with the number of each item limited.
Food comes from donations, from Walmart and from Second Harvest Food Bank, where the pantry can purchase food and items at greatly reduced prices. They also get freebies from Second Harvest. To contact the pantry, call 330-332-5166.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org