As your mother likely told you at the dinner table, you really do need to eat those green peas, turnip greens, cabbage and carrots. And while an apple a day may not keep the doctor away, it doesn’t hurt.
In June, also known – among many other things – as Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month, quite a few of our local farmers are busy harvesting spring crops to sell in area farmers markets you can find throughout Denton County. But what you may not know, is that these farmers are also filling our “Feeding Denton County” food boxes that go to local families in need.
Around 20 food pantries at our non-profits and local churches are giving an estimated 2,500 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to families every week as part of a Denton County program we created in August 2020, when we realized families were not receiving a nutritional variety of food to feed their children. In fact, the Feeding Denton County program has produced more than 198,800 boxes from Aug. 21, 2020, through May 14, 2022.
We created a unique program designed specifically to use locally-grown produce to fill 25-lb. boxes with fresh produce for families to receive from their local food pantries. These boxes are packed with between 10 to 13 different vegetables and fruits, selected specifically to provide a hungry family with nutritional sides to their meals.
Each week, Keith and Kassandra Copp, who own and operate Denton Creek Farm, work long hours looking for quality produce so that our families in need find the freshest assortment available as soon as they pick up their monthly boxes. The Copp family, through a contract with Denton County using CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act funds, pack the boxes most mornings and deliver them fresh to food pantries like Heart of the City Lewisville at Northview Baptist Church, Christian Community Center in Lewisville, Metrocrest Services in Carrollton, Salvation Army in Lewisville, and others to the north, east and west of our county.
An army of volunteers arrive to work several times each week to give these boxes to those facing the challenges of limited income, COVID-19-related setbacks and other issues. Our non-profits saw demand increase by more than 300 percent above pre-COVID levels and, recently, with escalating inflation, have seen more new families arrive weekly looking for food assistance.
I know we have mentioned this program a time or two these past 22 months, but the importance of making sure our struggling families can fill their refrigerators with healthy foods is a mission close to my heart.
I have toured our local pantries, talked to volunteers, and heard from recipients who tell us the bountiful boxes enable our youngest residents to sidle up to the dinner table for a salad with lettuce and tomatoes or a side of real mashed potatoes instead of a bowl of rice or beans. We have eaten plenty of that ourselves.
But there is nothing quite like the taste of homegrown tomatoes, freshly picked okra or a crunchy pepper to make dinnertime extra special. Or, finding an apple or orange in your lunchbox at school. Knowing those little faces are experiencing a few minutes of joy as they eat healthy can make the hardest of hearts melt.
While the county normally is not in the business of providing food to our residents, this program during the pandemic has been one of the shining stars of our efforts to make a difference in a time of distress. We know that it will one day come to an end as we transition back to normality but we sincerely hope the lessons learned during the collaboration among our partners will sow the seeds for a countywide effort to continue similar programs in the years to come.
And, while we were not looking for any accolades, we did receive wonderful news recently that our program is being recognized by the National Association of Counties this summer as a “best practices” award winning project.
My dearest hope is that others look at our efforts and replicate them across the country to ensure that no matter the circumstances, any family can enjoy the freshness of a ripe, juicy tomato or bite into a crispy, sweet apple knowing that someone cares.
Helping each other in times of need is what makes this country, state and county a special place to live. We can help our local farmers and simultaneously feed those who need a little extra hand for a time.
Just think about it the next time you walk through the grocery store to check the produce section. What would you do if you could not afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables? It seems almost unfathomable.
However, there but for the grace of God, go each and every one of us.
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If you have any questions or comments, please let me hear from you. My email is [email protected] and my office number is 972-434-4780.