FRANKFORT — The number of people turning to Access Soup Kitchen and Men's Shelter has climbed this year as the economy has plummeted.
Fortunately, the nearly 20-year-old non-profit has been able to count on some "green" help to feed the roughly 60 people who depend on Access for meals every day.
Since May, Access has received 375 pounds of fresh produce harvested from the Governor's Garden, an innovative partnership among the state, Western Hills High School, Kentucky Proud, Frankfort-area garden clubs and Access.
Started by first lady Jane Beshear, an avid gardener, the garden is part of Gov. Steve Beshear's Green Team Initiative, which encourages sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.
The garden is on the grounds of Berry Mansion, a state-owned property just minutes from the soup kitchen on Second Street.
The broccoli, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables that the pantry was able to serve during the past several months "were just the prettiest things I ever saw," Access executive director Linda Brown said.
Starting in 2012, fruit will be added to the menu. The Western Hills High School Agricultural Education classes and Future Farmers of America planted 24 peach, plum, apricot, apple, cherry and pear trees on Nov. 19.
The cherry trees will be the first to produce, said Cindy Lanham, a spokes woman for the Finance and Administration Cabinet, which oversees Berry Hill Mansion and the Governor's Garden. The full orchard probably will produce in 2014, Lanham said.
Food from the garden also has been used for dinners at the governor's mansion, which helps defray the cost of groceries, Lanham said.
At the soup kitchen, every little bit helps, Brown said. A local church also has sponsored a garden for the past two years, but the Governor's Garden has expanded the soup kitchen's selection of fresh vegetables.
And fresh vegetables and fruit are foods that many low-income people can't afford, Brown said.
"We don't buy a whole lot of fresh stuff because it's so expensive," Brown said. So the donations make a difference, she said. "All of the churches here are so good to us. Frankfort is very generous. We couldn't do it without the help of our community."