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Gardeners shared their produce with the hungry and people

Home gardeners and farmers throughout the region shared their vegetables and fruit with homeless and low-income people through Our Place Community Ministries’ participation in the Plant-A-Row food donation program.

Our Place Gardens
Gail Olson and Sister Ann Pizelo

Plant-A-Row (PAR) encourages people to grow an additional row of fruits or vegetables and donate the produce to Our Place or other food banks. The program is a local cooperative effort of the PAR, Inland Empire Gardeners, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Garden Writers’ Association.

Working with several local farmers’ markets, farms and orchards to collect unsold vegetables and fruit, Plant-A-Row generates more than 43,000 pounds of produce annually for Spokane area food banks.  Contributors also include home gardeners, farmers, schools, churches, youth, nonprofits and businesses.

Our Place’s Plant-A-Row program, directed by food bank manager Gail Olson, encourages donors to grow vegetables and fruits with a good shelf life, produce that is ripe but not overgrown.

“We see donations every day,” Gail said. “Recently, we had a donation of squash.  Youth in Project Hope’s Riverfront Farms brought cucumbers.  One time, a man brought a truck with 250 pounds of potatoes he had grown.”

Produce coming into the Our Place food bank under the PAR program is weighed, and donors receive a receipt for a $1.50 per pound federal tax deduction.

Gail said that while clients welcome all fruits and vegetables, there are favorites.

“A donation of grapes flew out of here, and watermelons are a huge hit,” she said. “People also like zucchini and squash.  We hope to go well into fall with homegrown donations.”

Gail has overseen the food bank at Our Place for three years.  She was a volunteer for two years while working in retail.

Started in 1995, Plant-A-Row—an international program—has collected millions of pounds of produce annually.  Our Place food bank receives and distributes Plant-A-Row food from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and last Saturdays.

Clients receive an average of 20 pounds of food per visit.

In conjunction with the food bank, Our Place also offers classes that help clients learn how to grow food and how to prepare nutritious meals from food bank food.  The class, which draws more than 20 participants at 10 a.m., Tuesdays, will resume this fall.

Michelle Heyn of Riverfront Farms taught a gardening class last April.  Students were given organic heirloom tomato starts, beans, peas and flowers to grow.  They were assisted in selecting a sunny location for their gardens.

“The students selected sites near their homes for their gardens.  The plants have done well,” Gail said.  “As an incentive, we gave them $25 for their water bills.”

Our Place received a $2,500 grant from Home Depot to purchase five-by-10-foot raised garden beds and soil for clients in the gardening class.

A volunteer group from Fairchild Air Force Base will help install the beds at the homes of clients,” said Tracie Swanson, development director for Our Place.

Plant-A-Row and the food bank are just part of Our Place’s commitment to end poverty and homelessness.  The ecumenical ministry also provides clothing, household items, toys, bus passes, hygiene products, utility assistance and laundry services.

When Our Place staff and volunteers open the doors each morning, they invite everyone who comes to join them in prayer to give thanks for the generosity of donors and express concern about clients’ welfare.  The prayer is a reflection of the ecumenical roots and support for the center.

Staff and volunteers lead classes—such as budget management—to help clients find solutions to poverty and ways to move toward self-sufficiency. 

During 2009, Our Place’ staff and more than 100 volunteers helped more than 17,000 people, 700 of whom were homeless.

Holy Names Sister Ann Pizelo, who is the new director, said Our Place began in 1987 as a cooperative effort by Catholic and Protestant pastors to address needs in West Central Spokane. 

As more people came to the churches seeking help, the pastors decided to collaborate to distribute food and clothing out of a basement in a small house on W. Elm St.  Six churches that helped organize Our Place were Grace Baptist, Holy Trinity Episcopal, Saint Joseph’s Catholic, Saint Paul’s Methodist, Salem Lutheran and Westminster Presbyterian.

In 2002, Our Place moved into its current building at 1509 W. College St.  Since then, the building has been remodeled with funds from grants and donors.  One donor helped Our Place pay off its mortgage seven years ago.

Today Our Place’s sponsors are Holy Trinity Episcopal, St. Joseph’s Catholic, St Paul’s United Methodist, Salem Lutheran and Westminster Presbyterian churches, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, plus churches that had supported Emerson-Garfield’s neighborhood center—Emmanuel Presbyterian, Central Baptist and Knox Presbyterian.

While Our Place will serve anyone in need, its primary service area runs south of Montgomery to the Spokane River on the south and west, and  east of Division.

For information, call 326-7267.