Tomatoes and peppers are starting to poke through the freshly tilled soil at Christ Episcopal Church in Ansonia.
Once the vegetables are ripe, they’ll go directly to the The Kathleen Samela Memorial Food Bank, which is housed in the church basement.
Rev. Amy D. Welin hopes the veggies from the 10-foot-by-12-foot church garden won’t be the only fresh produce the food bank sees this year.
Christ Church recently teamed with AmpleHarvest.org, which is an online service that connects local gardeners with food banks in their area.
Such partnerships are helping replace cereal and Mac and Cheese boxes with fresh produce at pantries across the country.
Welin said each year gardeners are forced to throw away their extra bounty.
“In my experience as a home gardener, by the end of the summer my own children refused to eat anymore zucchini,” she said.
AmpleHarvest.org Founder Gary Oppenheimer, of New Jersey, had the same experience.
“Two years ago, my own garden grew more produce than we could possibly use, and I quickly found that there are only so many cucumbers you can give to friends and still have them call you a friend,” he said.
“Our community garden also left a lot of produce to rot on the vines. When I searched on the Internet for pantries, the nearest one listed was 25 miles away, even though my own town has five. That was when it became clear that AmpleHarvest.org was desperately needed,” he said.
Oppenheimer said one out of six American families are now relying on pantries to help feed them.
Christ Church joined the program about a month ago. People are slowly learning about the new partnership.
Last week a local gardener dropped off a box of excess peas, which means at least some of the 170 people the food bank serves had a healthier menu to choose from.
“To be able to offer this to people is a huge blessing. This gives us hope that we can do something,” Welin said. “I’m hoping more food pantries get involved. The people who rely on food banks are always happy to receive something fresh.”
Currently, Christ Church is the only food pantry in the lower Naugatuck Valley that is working with AmpleHarvest.
The bank is open Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., though people wishing to deliver produce can stop by on Wednesdays as well.