Fresh produce a precious commodity
JANESVILLE Grocery bags of fresh produce filled the refrigerator, covered the countertops and spilled across the kitchen floor at House of Mercy homeless center on a recent Sunday.
"There were bags and bags of sweet corn, beets, radishes, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, rhubarb, peaches, cucumbers, greens, carrots and potatoes plus baked goods," said Shirley Van Horn, executive director.
The food came from Rock County Farmers Market vendors who collect unsold goods at the end of their market day every Sunday.
"Anything vendors think they won't be able to sell before the next market day, they will donate," said Caroline Robb, market manager.
Van Horn praised the generous donation.
"They're doing incredible things for our residents and anyone getting the food. It is the most nourishing food they could possibly put in their bodies because it is locally grown," she said.
Maj. Ruth Fay at the Salvation Army in Janesville agreed.
"We will get canned and box food, but it is rare for us to get food that is donated that is fresh."
That has changed recently because Van Horn makes sure market donations the House of Mercy can't use are taken to the Salvation Army or ECHO, a local faith-sponsored nonprofit charity.
"That way, people who can't afford it and are in desperate need will get it," Van Horn said.
The produce is a precious commodity, Fay said.
"When farmers give us overage out of their abundance, it also helps us budget our food and add to the nutritional value of our meals because we can't afford fresh food," she said.
None of the food donations are wasted, Fay said.
"We make sure it doesn't spoil, add it to our free community meals and pass it out to families so everything is used," she said.
Van Horn said House of Mercy has been receiving Rock County Farmers Market food donations regularly since the market began three years ago.
Nearly every Sunday, Robb's son-in-law Trevor Allen of Janesville arrives at the end of the market and loads up vendors' donations for delivery.
"Our Rock County Farmers Market vendors have big hearts, and I am proud to call them my friends," Robb said.
Robb estimated between 300 and 400 pounds of food was donated a few weeks ago.
"It took Trevor's vehicle and my little truck to get it there," she said.
"House of Mercy is always very appreciative for what we bring, and we are happy we can help, especially during this season when the produce vendors have been hit so hard by the drought," Robb said.
"It provides the aspect of nourishment we all need for healthy bodies that is a lot of times lacking for people who qualify for food stamps," Van Horn said.