I get to learn about a lot of great local initiatives when I make visits around the country. On a recent trip to Dallas, I visited Metrocrest Social Services, a community resource agency in Farmers Branch, Texas, that provides services to families in crisis and helps them make plans for the future. The purpose of the visit was to learn how outreach workers from the North Texas Food Bank come to this office to assist clients submit applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Camilla Zimbal, social services director, gave me a tour of the agency, and showed me some of the other services available to clients. One of the highlights of this one-stop shop is a food pantry at which pantry clients may select groceries once a week. In addition to the canned and boxed food, they can also select fresh-from-the-garden fruit and vegetables.
Community gardeners, farmers and individuals donate locally grown produce weekly to Metrocrest. Produce is harvested early each Saturday morning from three nearby community gardens and a local high school garden and brought to Metrocrest for volunteers to wash, sort and display in time for a 9 a.m. opening.
While clients are limited to once-a-week groceries, they may come in at any time for fresh produce. On a recent Saturday morning, over 40 people came in just for the produce. During peak growing season, when tomatoes and cantaloupes are ripening, even more clients show up for the delicious fresh produce, which is then delivered twice a week. Volunteers at Metrocrest provide recipes and cooking instructions for folks that may not have much experience cooking fresh foods. Recently, frozen chicken was available at the pantry. Volunteers made sure clients went home with some fresh herbs and cooking instructions for the chicken.
Those who choose to donate fresh food also enjoy a benefit—providing fresh produce is a great way to give back to the community by helping fight hunger and promote healthy eating. Zimbal gave an example of a local couple in their seventies who picked bushels of ripe peaches from trees in their backyard and brought them to the pantry. This was a delicious and special treat for clients and a sweet way for the couple to help others. Another example of thoughtfulness was the recent donation of tomato plants so clients could grow their own tomatoes. This kind of local food sharing is a great example of ways farmers and backyard gardeners can give back to the community and help provide healthy food to those in need.