Since opening its doors last spring, the Northern Stokes Food Pantry has seen nothing but growth.
They have had growth in donations from the community, growth in volunteers willing to help, but, unfortunately, they have also seen an even larger growth in the number of families seeking help.
“When we started we were getting between 20 to 30 families a week,” said volunteer Johnny Manchester. “Now we are serving close to 300 families in total and getting between 50 to 70 families a week. We have about 2,000 pounds of food coming in but are giving out 5,000 pounds some weeks. It makes it pretty tough.
“We are getting between five to 10 new families each week,” he added. “Probably by Christmas time we will be helping around 400 families.”
So to help supplement the food the pantry is giving out, a handful of volunteers started looking at another kind of growth this summer, the old fashioned kind of growth where you plant a garden.
Tommy Collins said his brother, Tracey Collins, helped get the food pantry up and running and approached him this spring about the possibility of growing a garden to provide food for the pantry.
“I tend just about all of the farms up and down this road,” said Tommy Collins, surveying a field next to the Francisco Community Center. “I rent this plot from my cousin and have been tending it for years. I asked him if the food pantry could plant it and he said yes.”
The plot, which used to be filled with tobacco and wheat, is now filled with corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes all of which will be donated to the food pantry.
“We tried to get plants with a long shelf life,” said Collins. “The potatoes, we can store them and keep them for a year. We also did not want something that we would have to work everyday with picking. Tomatoes or squash would have to be picked every day.”
He said the fields boast dozens of rows of corn, 300 pounds of potatoes and 4,000 to 5,000 sweet potato plants.
“Last week we pulled 30 dozen ears of corn and gave that out,” he said. “I think it is going really good.”
Collins said he and his family did most of the planting with some help from his church.
“The biggest part will be harvesting everything,” he said, noting that a feed supply store in Winston-Salem donated most of the seed and fertilizer when it heard about the project. “We have a Bible study on Wednesday night, and we have decided to tell everybody to wear their boots to Bible study so we could come down here and pull some corn and have it ready to give out at the pantry the next day.”
Collins said they would likely continue the garden program next year, given its early success this year.
“We may want to cut back some on the corn and plant more potatoes,” he noted. “The plan is to get them up in boxes and put them in the basement of the church. The sweet potatoes will keep a year if you don’t let them get too cold or hot and the potatoes will keep a long time too.”
Manchester said the pantry is also getting donations of produce from other local farmers and some donations of deer meat during hunting season.
“We got a lot of cucumbers and squash last week,” he said. “The people are really happy to get something fresh instead of the canned food.”
He said the fresh produce also helps the pantry stretch its funding when getting food from Second Harvest Food Bank.
“Not having to buy potatoes or corn means we can take our money and get other things like bread and meat,” he said, noting that the pantry could get more food from Second Harvest Food Bank per dollar than the average person could get at the grocery store. “We can take a dollar and buy enough food to feed a family of four. It is whole lot better if we could get people to donate funds instead of food so we could go purchase more food.”
Manchester said he is amazed at how much demand the pantry sees every time it is open.
“We had been open every Thursday, but now, because there is such a demand we are having to open every other week,” he said. “There are times when you just want to step back and cry because it is so sad, but you can’t show your weakness because they need your strength. We are here to strengthen and help these people.
“Thank God for the farmers and the people donating food and money,” he added. “This is a really great community. When somebody gets down, the community is there to help you get back up. I have never seen anything like it.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.