Davis: Faith groups glean food for the hungry

Erica Horn, left, Mary Powell, Bonnie Jacobs and Jennifer Erena volunteer for Faith Feeds, an organization that distributes surplus food from the Lexington Farmers Market. Horn says she'd love to see more churches establish community gardens to help with supply.
Erica Horn, left, Mary Powell, Bonnie Jacobs and Jennifer Erena volunteer for Faith Feeds, an organization that distributes surplus food from the Lexington Farmers Market. Horn says she'd love to see more churches establish community gardens to help with supply.

For a couple of years now, John Walker has been talking about gathering surplus harvests and getting the produce to those who need it most.

"Basically, we've been gleaning from farmers and neighbors' yards and things like this," said Walker who leads the Lexington Urban Gleaning Network.

Several small groups were doing the same thing, but there was no centralized effort to ensure the produce got to where it was the most needed and wanted.

Then Walker met Erica Horn, and the two thought churches and church members would be good resources for the help needed in feeding the poor. Plus, they realized that their idea needed to involve a larger supply of produce than could be gathered in an occasional gleaning of a crop or the surplus in back-yard gardens.

What they came up with is Faith Feeds, the collecting of surplus produce from vendors at the Lexington Farmers Market four days a week and the distribution of that bounty by volunteers from at least 12 churches and one synagogue to area charities.

"So far, it has been very successful," Walker said. "We collected 400 to 500 pounds of food on Sunday. Other days it is variable. It could be two boxes and could be more."

The network gleaned fields last year and gave the harvest to grateful charities, along with any surplus their own gardens yielded. But the difference this year, many say, is Erica Horn.

Horn volunteered to coordinate the needs of charities and the volunteers who could distribute the produce. She determined what charities could use, how much they could handle without waste and when it would best serve them to have it delivered on a regular basis.

Now volunteers go to each of the four sale days for the Lexington Farmers Market and glean what the farmers deem as surplus, or what they have harvested especially for the program.

"We needed an umbrella organization to coordinate all these moving parts," Horn said. "We want the most efficient means of food distribution.

"My roll is to take John's idea and put it on paper and gather a core group of volunteers and make it happen."

Since June 17, when the effort was first in full effect, Sarah Buzogany, assistant manager of the Lexington Farmers Market, said more than 100 large boxes and sacks of produce have been donated to Faith Feeds.

"Our farmers are very receptive to this," she said. "We were looking for a way to do that, but we don't have enough manpower to coordinate this on our own."

Buzogany posts a banner that reads: "Faith Feeds: Place food for hungry here." Farmers place their donations under that banner and volunteers box it up and take the food to any of 10 emergency food agencies, including the Men's Hope Center, Women's Hope Center, Lighthouse Mission, Lexington Rescue Mission, the Catholic Action Center, Maxwell Presbyterian Church and The Rock/La Roca United Methodist Church. Some also goes to the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville.

"When we went to the Catholic Action Center Sunday, we had 25 boxes of vegetables and three huge mesh bags of corn," Horn said. "We've taken cabbages and greens. The only thing they didn't like was the eggplant."

Horn, a member of Beaumont Presbyterian Church, said the program would love to see more churches establishing community gardens to keep the supplies at a consistent level.

Beaumont has 32 plots in its community garden. Two of them are dedicated to charitable distribution, and church officials ask that 10 percent of the harvests from the other 30 be donated, too.

"We want (charities) to know we'll be there consistently no matter what," Horn said.

One recipient of the bounty already knows.

The Rev. Aaron Mansfield, pastor of The Rock/La Roca, said his church hosts a Monday night service at which 35 to 45 people are served a meal and then are given food baskets to take home. He also delivers produce to shut-ins and other residents throughout the neighborhood along North Limestone.

For a couple of years Mansfield has gardened behind Arlington Elementary School and next to the church. The church has also partnered with First United Methodist Church to garden on land on Todds Road.

Still, though, he could not make finances stretch far enough to cover the need.

"I spent this year pulling out my hair, trying to figure out how we are going to make things work financially," Mansfield said. "When I just let go, the next thing I know everybody is bringing this stuff to me.

"Faith Feeds has been a great partner," he continued. "This is the first year large amounts of produce have come in week after week."

Because of Faith Feeds and support from other United Methodist churches, the Monday night ministry operates at zero cost, he said.

"Most of them don't know me, but they know there's hard times and they know there is a need and they stepped up to meet that need," Mansfield said.

Last year Mansfield allowed the network to use the church kitchen to can the harvest. Pumpkins and apples gleaned from Reed Valley Orchards were converted to pies.

They hope to do the same thing this year, Horn said, so that food is available throughout the year. The more farmers or orchards allow volunteers to glean their fields, the more that can happen.

Plus, Horn wants to take Faith Feeds statewide, getting volunteers and farmers from other counties involved in feeding the hungry in their areas.

And it probably will.

"It just seems like a movement," Mansfield said.