Gardeners' bounty helps the hungry

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Steve Dalton, the unofficial spokesman for the community gardeners at Rose Tree Park in Media, where members often donate food to Philabundance. (Ed Hille/Inquirer)

Still dressed in his business attire from work, Dan Massaro busily pulled weeds, watered, and plucked about a dozen yellow and red tomatoes off the vines from his plot at Delaware County's Rose Tree Park Community Garden Thursday evening.

With more tomatoes, corn, peppers, beets, squash and carrots than he "could possibly use," Massaro has joined gardeners across the region helping the hungry through Philabundance's Share the Harvest program.

"It's a wonderful cause," Massaro, 34, of Drexel Hill, said about donating his fresh vegetables. "It feels good to know it is going someplace."

Share the Harvest, based on the Victory Gardens concept from World War II, brought in about 4,900 pounds of fresh produce last summer for Philabundance, the region's largest food bank. This year, with 4,500 pounds already collected and a longer donation period, it expects to exceed that amount.

Marlo DelSordo, communications manager for Philabundance, said food prices overall are up about 6 percent this year.

With the most recently reported unemployment rate in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey at 5.4 percent amid rising inflation, and stagnating wages, more people are visiting area food pantries, he said.

The Rose Tree Park site on Providence Road is one of seven places in the region where gardeners can drop off fresh produce donations on Saturday mornings between 10 and noon through Sept. 27.

"During this part of the season, we really get the most," DelSordo said. Fresh fruits and vegetables "are becoming luxury items for a lot of people we serve. They just can't buy them."

One quick look at the Rose Tree Park garden will explain why tomatoes top the list of donated fruits and vegetables.

They are everywhere.

Cherry, plum, Big Boy and Ugly. They are ripe, not-so-ripe, and on-the-ground overripe.

"It seems like we are getting a lot of tomatoes," said Steven Dalton, 43, of Prospect Park, who was instrumental in coordinating the garden's donation program for Share the Harvest.

About a quarter of the park's 130 gardeners participate in the program, and Dalton said they had donated more than 350 pounds of produce to date. Volunteers from the group also cultivate two plots dedicated exclusively to the Philabundance program, he said.

This is the first year Springdale Farms in Cherry Hill has volunteered to be a drop-off site, and it is also the first New Jersey location for the program.

John Ebert, vice president of the family-owned farm, said about 15 home gardeners had participated. The 59-year-old farm also donates produce from its gardens.

"The product we have that is decent is going to a good cause rather than composting it," Ebert said. The estimated total donation from the site is around 500 pounds.

Smith & Hawken in Bryn Mawr, another drop-off location, has been part of the program for about eight years, manager Peter Van Schaick said.

"We do get anywhere from three people on a slow week to 15 to 20 during a busy week," Schaick said. As an incentive, the store offers a 10 percent discount for those who participate.

Beth Folkomer, 57, of Springfield, Delaware County, has donated tomatoes, a few "baseball-bat-size" zucchinis, and six cabbages from her Rose Tree Park plot. "I like to grow cabbage, but no one in my house likes cabbage."

Her philanthropic efforts don't stop there. In her home garden, she is growing about a dozen watermelons, just starting to ripen, specifically for the Share the Harvest program.

Arthur Stettler, 89, of Media, a regular donor to the program, started his garden plot about four seasons ago when he moved into a nearby apartment. An avid gardener, he helped bring Share the Harvest to Rose Tree Park.

"You share what you have with others," Stettler said. "Share your bounty."

 


Share the Harvest Drop-off Sites

Donations of fresh fruit and vegetables may be dropped off between 10 and noon Saturday mornings through Sept. 27 at the following locations:

Bucks County

Carousel Gardens, 591 Durham Rd., Newtown

Chester County

Gardner's Landscape Nursery, 535 W. Uwchlan Ave., Chester Springs

Delaware County

Rose Tree Park, 1671 N. Providence Rd., Media

Montgomery County

Albrecht Nurseries, 650 Montgomery Ave., Narberth

Smith & Hawken, 1225 Montrose Ave., Bryn Mawr

Philadelphia

Laurel Hill Gardens, 8125 Germantown Ave.

New Jersey

Springdale Farms, 1638 S. Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill

Source: Philabundance


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.