Getting fresh produce to clients can be a challenge for food banks with limited storage space.
One local church found a way to meet that challenge and distribute thousands of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to its clients this summer by working through the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
For the second time this summer, Central College Presbyterian Church hosted a free farmers market for its clients Sept. 17. The Mid-Ohio Foodbank brought 10,000 pounds of fresh produce to the church’s food pantry, and a team of more than 30 church volunteers helped pantry clients “shop.”
In all, the market provided produce for more than 100 families.
“It was unbelievable,” church spokeswoman Dede Carothers said. “It’s just not very often that those that use the food pantry get that kind of produce. They get good food, but not usually fresh like that.”
The pantry, which serves about 180 people a week, takes in whatever fresh produce it can get for the families it serves, Carothers said.
The produce provided for the market, which included items such as tomatoes, plums, carrots, radishes and turnips, was easily the best produce the food pantry has had to hand out, Carothers said.
The food pantry’s clients were thrilled with the selection and the amount of food they received, she said.
“The people could hardly contain themselves of their appreciation,” she said. “They don’t get it. They don’t get that kind of produce; they were ecstatic.”
This summer marks the second year that the Mid-Ohio Foodbank has offered farmers markets at some of its partner pantries, spokesman Colin Baumgartner said.
The program began as a pilot last year, with the food bank helping coordinate 26 markets. This year, the program expanded to 150 farmers markets, including the two held at Central College Presbyterian Church.
“We’re pretty happy with that. We set an internal goal to distribute 6 million pounds of produce July through October,” Baumgartner said.
This time of the year, much of the produce comes from Ohio farms that work through statewide food bank associations to donate their goods, he said.
“We have a lot of this produce we’re able to get our hands on,” he said.
But, he said, distributing that produce tends to be a challenge for smaller pantries that partner with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank because many lack the large cold-storage units found at large food banks like Mid-Ohio.
“The produce market worked well for us because a lot of our pantries don’t have storage. It’s a solution for them to not have to hold produce in storage for several days,” Baumgartner said. “They just don’t have the capacity that we do at the food bank.”
Even for the farmers market program, Mid-Ohio has to be careful about which locations it chooses, since the locations must be able to accommodate the influx of clients that comes to a farmers market.
Carothers said Central College Presbyterian Church’s food pantry was selected as a location after its leaders met with representatives of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank and expressed interest in the market program.
The church had plenty of eager volunteers who helped clients through the market and printed recipes for some of the less common produce, Carothers said.
Central College Presbyterian Church was the only Westerville location to have a Mid-Ohio Foodbank farmers market this year, Baumgartner said.
The program was so well received by clients, organizers and volunteers that the church will be eager to provide the markets as often as Mid-Ohio is willing, Carothers said.
“If Mid-Ohio offers it to us, we’ll continue to take them up on it,” she said.
The farmers market season is coming to an end for this year, Baumgartner said, but Mid-Ohio plans to continue it on a similar scale next year. However, the locations and frequency of the markets won’t be determined until organizers have a chance to analyze this year’s program, he said.