Redlands Daily Facts (CA)
July 22, 2009
Chantal M. Lovell, staff writer
REDLANDS – Local volunteers are on a mission to feed the hungry and do so nutritiously. Helping Hands Pantry, based in Redlands, provides several services to local communities. One such service is food distribution, which serves an average of 1,500 people each week, according to executive director Paul Dickau.
“A lot of people just have a need,” Dickau said. “By providing groceries, this means they might be able to use that money to pay an electric bill.”
One feature of Helping Hands Pantry is its own garden, run by volunteers to provide more nutritious food to those in need. The pantry relies on food donations from stores, individuals, and other groups, but such produce, often leftover or old, is not always good.
“One of the things we noticed is when you get salvaged food, the quality is bad, so we decided to do two things,” Dickau said. “One, we grow our own food, and two, we ask people to grow a little extra in their own gardens.”
The garden, which began in spring, supplements other food donations and allows Helping Hands to provide patrons with the quality of food they might choose to purchase if able. Much of the produce grown would be too expensive for some, partially because of the way it is grown.
“It’s all organic,” Dickau said. “We try to make it as healthy as possible.”
They put kelp meal in the soil and kelp extract on the foliage, because it creates stronger and more nutritious plants, Dickau said. They also make their own compost.
Among the many items growing in the Redlands garden are squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet corn, bell peppers, hot peppers and sunflowers.
“This is kind of a test garden,” said master gardener Ken Breyer. “Some have been extremely successful, some have not. We have cornstalks that are eight feet tall, a lot of cucumbers, and a lot of squash.”
Helping Hands volunteers also glean extra fruit from area trees. Homeowners can contact the charity to offer extra fruit. Volunteers will come harvest it and make sure it is not wasted.
The food is distributed from a center several times a week.
“The food is a way we can give some love to them,” said Helping Hands Pantry board member Pete VanderKooy. “We try to treat them not as numbers, but as family members. People keep coming back because they are treated with dignity and respect.”
Helping Hands’ current garden is in Redlands, on the property of a volunteer who is allowing the group to use the extra space. They have plans to plant another garden at a donors house, and are looking to purchase farmland in San Timoteo Canyon after the summer.
Currently, about 100 people volunteer on a regular basis, but the organization is always in need of more, Dickau said. They are also in need of a walk in-refrigerator and refrigerated truck to protect the produce.
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