Volunteers Gather Veggies for St. Camillus Food Pantry

Maria Hayes Around the Province

SILVER SPRING, Md. — On Wednesday mornings, Bernie Relf and other volunteers from St. Camillus Parish’s food pantry sacrifice a few hours of sleep to serve their fellow man.

Parishioners ranging in age from 10 to 75 — Jacek Orzechowski, OFM,included — gather at 7 a.m. each week to drive to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agriculture Research Center in Beltsville, Md. There they pick 3,000 to 4,000 lbs. of vegetables in the course of two hours — and they don’t eat any of it.

The volunteers bring the produce — cucumbers, corn and four types of squash — back to the food pantry, where a team of Hispanic and French justice, peace and integrity of creation committees, led by David Montecinos and Alphonse Mipa, distribute it to families in need. Any leftover vegetables are distributed on Fridays and Saturdays at the food pantry.

“This project is the joint work of the parish’s JPIC committees and the food pantry, whose mission of increasing security for all includes increasing access to fresh produce,” said Joan Conway, coordinator of the food pantry.

BARC, a 7,500-acre research farm, grows produce used for agriculture-related experiments, Conway said. For example, an etymologist cultivating squash to study insects and pests that invade squash plants does not need the full-grown vegetables. Organizations like St. Camillus Food Pantry can glean the food through the Feds Feed Families program of the USDA. So far, St. Camillus has collected 30,350 lbs. of vegetables, Conway said.

“What could have been wasted is now serving families and improving their nutrition,” she added.

St. Camillus Food Pantry has helped an increasing number of people since its founding in 1963, especially during recent years. In 2002, it saw approximately 100 families per year. This year, it served 7,000 families and has seen over 100,000 individuals over the past three years.

“The joy we felt beginning our work and then sweating in the humidity and rain was amplified at the end of our time together,” said St. Camillus Food Pantry’s Facebook page. “We shared stories and recipes in English and Spanish. We joked, smiled and prayed together. After this, many families will have fresh produce on their tables.”

The St. Camillus volunteers will conclude their vegetable picking and distribution for the season when the frost comes.

 Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.