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Washington, February 16, 2011 -- One out of six Americans goes to bed hungry. And it doesn't have to be that way.
That's the credo of a new but thriving nationwide program called AmpleHarvest.org, which has enabled gardeners to share their excess produce with local food pantries.
Inspired by members of the Sustainable West Milford (NJ) Community Garden, who organized themselves in 2008 to share their left-over bounty with several local food pantries, AmpleHarvest.org was launched in May 2009 to connect garden enthusiasts with churches and organizations that distribute food to persons who can't afford to buy groceries.
Today, more than 3,200 food pantries across all 50 states now receive fresh produce from local backyard gardeners who use AmpleHarvest.org, according to Gary Oppenheimer, founder of the network.
AmpleHarvest.org is a free service, Oppenheimer said. "There are no costs to the food pantries nor to the gardeners using AmpleHarvest.org to find one."
In part because of his work with AmpleHarvest.org. Oppenheimer was named a CNN Hero in 2010.
"AmpleHarvest.org is an inspiring example of people working together to support their neighbors in need," says the Rev. Michael E. Livingston, director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative.
"We all know gardeners who grew more fruit and vegetables than they needed and felt frustrated when it rotted on the vine. Thanks to this network, the unused bounty around the country gets to thousands of people who need it -- and while it is still fresh."
"Certainly AmpleHarvest.org is a powerful example of the message the NCC has been preaching for years," said Cassandra Carmichael, director of the NCC Eco-Justice program. "Providing and sharing fresh food is not only eco-just -- it's biblically sound and theologically prophetic."
Livingston encourages congregations related to the NCC's member communions "to get to know AmpleHarvest.org as the gardening season begins in many parts of the country this spring, and use it as a ministry of sharing and caring."
"Providing fresh produce to local food pantries offers a number of benefits to both the recipient as well as the community," says Oppenheimer. "Not only is fresh produce healthier than canned goods -- no excess salt or sugar in the diet -- it tastes a lot better, has a much smaller carbon footprint and has eye appeal, too."
Children who eat fresh vegetables tend to eat a healthier diet when they grow older, Oppenheimer says.
In addition, an article about AmpleHarvest.org in the Huffington Post asserts that national long-term health care costs will be reduced as more people have access to fresh produce.
"By helping to feed our neighbors in our community in instead of throwing the excess away, we both reduce the waste stream and we reduce the out-of-pocket costs needed to keep people from going hungry," says Oppenheimer. "All this because an ample harvest was given to a pantry and not wasted."
Church groups and civic organizations can learn more and quickly connect with local food pantries by way of the AmpleHarvest.org website. The website also has links to fliers, widgets, CNN videos, a Facebook link and other information about the network.
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