Pearl Turner, 85, is excited on this clear, sunny, Saturday morning. Soon the lobby of the Annie B. Rose House, an apartment complex where she lives with residents who are older or have disabilities, will overflow with fresh kale, okra, bread, cantaloupe, berries and peaches, all donated by area farmers who sell produce at the Old Town Farmers’ Market in Alexandria, Va.
Four blocks away at the market, Sara Rhoades, the city’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) coordinator, is already instructing a group of us volunteers. We're here as part of a city program that unites local farmers, churches and government as a team to deliver fresh food to low-income residents, with a little exercise added for good measure.
Some volunteers (gleaners) will collect leftover produce from the vendors. Part of the produce haul will be ferried by car to food pantries at two churches, but some of us (bicyclists) will haul most of the produce to the Annie B. Rose House. A few of us, including me, are both gleaners and bikers.
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Rhoades hands out plastic crates to the gleaners and dispatches us to vendors who are frequent donators. She steers me to Cameron's Berries of Summit Point, W.Va. It's 11:30 a.m. and the vendors have been on the job since 7, so I'm unsure what they'll have left. Never fear: Cameron's quickly fills my crate with potatoes, tomatoes and okra.
I lug the load to the scale in the back of the market area: 17 pounds. I can skip my afternoon gym workout.
Meanwhile, four cyclists are attaching carts to the rear frame of their bikes. They signed up online for Bike for Good, a volunteer service based in part on a program Rhoades came across in Colorado.
Despite my heavy donation from Cameron's, we end up with a light haul, just over 200 pounds of donated produce and bread. Sunny mornings bring more traffic to the market, Rhoades explains, so less produce is left for donations. On rainy Saturdays they've collected nearly 500 pounds.
The harvest is divided and the portion for the church pantries loaded into waiting cars. We cyclists secure the remaining food crates on the bike carts with bungee cords, adjust our helmets and form a caravan that snakes through the streets of Alexandria toward the Annie B. Rose House.
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There, Turner is waiting for us. We unload the summer goodness onto a table already laden with food donations from other local organizations. Turner and her friend Margaret Carter pick out their ingredients for a week’s worth of salads.
“It’s just a blessing to know that people still care. People still want to help,” Carter tells me.
Similarly moved, Turner adds, “I’m just so pleased and blessed and so thankful.”
Photos: Jane Hess Collins
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