In a survey Jewish Family Service conducted of its food pantry clients, one of the most requested items was fresh produce. The Plant a Row program helps to fill that need for the 125 families who visit the pantry each month.
Plant a Row is an initiative which was started four summers ago to offer fresh fruits and vegetables to JFS clients throughout the growing season. Anyone who has his or her own garden is encouraged to “Plant a Row” for JFS and then drop off the extra produce once it’s ripe to either JFS or the JCC.
But you don’t need your own garden to participate. Donating a few extra items from your haul at the farmers market or grocery store helps fill the pantry, too. And many throughout the Lehigh Valley have found ways to work together to help by volunteering at community gardens. Already this summer, the students at the Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley have donated over 23 pounds of produce they grew themselves in the garden on their school grounds with help from JDS staff and volunteers.
Another place where anyone can volunteer is at the Monocacy Farm Project, a 10-acre organic farm located on Bridle Path Road in Bethlehem. Originally launched in 2013 by the Sisters of Saint Francis to provide low-income families and the homeless access to organic fruits and vegetables, as well as educational programs on healthy lifestyles and nutrition, the Monocacy Farm Project has been partnering with JFS since 2016. A JFS volunteer picks up their harvested produce for distribution to the food pantry each week. Congregation Brith Sholom in Bethlehem has been actively involved with the gardening efforts of the Monocacy Farm Project, but they are always in need of more volunteers.
No matter where the produce is grown, it is a blessing when it finds its way to the JFS food pantry. JFS prides itself on the fact that its food pantry is one of the only “choice” pantries in the Valley. That means that rather than just being handed a bag of food that may or may not fit their dietary needs or preferences, clients can “shop” for the things they most want.
Sharon Gayner, JFS food pantry coordinator, takes that concept a step further with the produce donated for the Plant a Row program. During the summer when Plant a Row is in action, she sets up the produce on its own special table in baskets, so it resembles a farmers market.
There are other ways that the JFS staff has highlighted the produce as well. If they receive an abundance of a certain item such as squash or zucchini, they might print out easy, simple recipes for that particular item to inspire the clients in their cooking or offer samples.
“People really enjoy receiving the fresh produce, which they might not otherwise be able to afford,” said Rebecca Axelrod-Cooper, JFS community impact coordinator.
This need is met not only by the Jewish community, but also by others like the diverse volunteers at the Monocacy Farm Project and even the local community surrounding the JFS building on Allen Street in Allentown.
Want to get involved? Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can volunteer to transport produce from the JCC or community farms to the food pantry, or just purchase a little extra the next time you’re buying produce for your own family. And, if you are interested in getting your hands dirty, Monocacy Farm would love to have you! Contact Chelsea Karp at 610-821-8722 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how to get involved with Plant a Row this summer.