WATERMAN – Jake Wieseler and his family grew more produce in their garden than they could possibly eat.
They tried to pass some of it off to neighbors, but it still was so much that some of it ended up in the compost heap. Wieseler, 15, was in the process of coming up with an Eagle Scout project when he thought about how that food could be put to much better use.
“Why not just grow it for the N.I.C.E. Center and give to people who need it more than us?” he said, referencing the local food pantry.
For about 2˝ months, Wieseler, of Waterman, has arrived just about every Saturday morning just before the food pantry opens toting an average of five to six 5-gallon buckets full of fresh produce from his garden.
Jeannie Johnson, a volunteer with the Neighbors in Christ Ecumenical Center in Lee, said the vegetables usually are scooped up the same day they’re delivered.
“It’s not typical to get fresh stuff. It’s just hit and miss,” she said. “It’s a special treat.”
The food pantry serves from 30 to 50 families a week, according to the pantry’s website. Johnson said the pantry supports families in surrounding areas, including Shabbona, Paw Paw, Hinckley, Compton, Steward and West Brooklyn.
This summer, Wieseler and his family grew onions, peppers, beans, tomatoes, kohlrabi, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, sweet corn and watermelon. Just recently, he brought five 5-gallon buckets to the pantry filled with tomatoes. He said he’ll deliver the fruits and vegetables until his garden stops producing them for the season.
Although the project is a one-time community service effort that he needs to earn Eagle Scout rank, Wieseler said he plans to continue the garden project every summer until he goes to college because he feels it’s making a difference.
He said a lot of times, when families can’t afford groceries, they have to settle for whatever is delivered to the food pantry each month.
“Sometimes they get good stuff, sometimes they get bad stuff,” he said.
Part of his project also is to raise awareness about the food pantry and encourage people from the community to donate. That’s another side of the effort he plans to continue year after year.
“I’d just like to tell people, help out as much as you can for the N.I.C.E. Center or other charities,” he said. “Help out and they’ll be grateful.”