Turns out the catalyst behind a volunteer campaign to combat hunger was a "crunchy kid." When her toddler son Lincoln became obsessed with vegetables, Amanda McQuade, 43, felt she'd hit the jackpot. Feeding him healthy food was so easy, it made the Grand Junction, CO, mom realize how tough life would be if she couldn't afford fresh produce. Inspired by the Idaho group Backyard Harvest, Amanda also wanted to help feed the hungry in her community. So in 2009 she and some friends started Grow Another Row (GAR), a volunteer effort that delivers surplus fruits and veggies to local groups like soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
A straightforward organizational structure allows Amanda to manage GAR and her busy mom schedule. "If you have produce to contribute, just give us a call and we'll come get it," she says. People leave homegrown donations on their porches, and she collects them while running errands. Amanda then arranges deliveries to agencies based on each group's need. "I know who could use butternut squash and who's been overwhelmed by cucumbers," she explains. Not all donations come from small backyard gardens. Last summer she organized a collection at Colorado State University's Western Colorado Research Center, where 25 volunteers harvested nearly a ton of apples. "CSU has been a great partner," says Amanda. "They sell the first batch of their crop and give us the rest."
To keep it all running, Amanda depends on the support of her family. Her husband, Kyle, looks after the boys—along with Lincoln (now 8), the couple has 5-year-old twins—while she handles operations out of their home. The kids like to do their part, tagging along with Amanda on pickups and sorting produce. GAR doesn't fundraise or accept financial contributions. Instead, Amanda depends on volunteers, whom she finds through word of mouth, to collect donated produce and make deliveries. "We had a harvest once with the motleyest crew of all—parents from my kids' preschool, neighbors and even my husband's coworkers," she says.
Despite all of Amanda's efforts, GAR can only help so much. "You bring 70 pounds to a shelter and it's gone in a day," she admits. But without GAR, people in need would receive only shelf-stable food, says Darcy Johnson, director of Community Food Bank in Grand Junction. Amanda considers GAR donations as a treat for people to enjoy during hard times. The greatest reward for Amanda has been working with members of her community to help feed hungry neighbors. "It doesn't just end with me dropping off a box," she says. "I get to see people's amazing gardens and spend time with my kids picking apples."
Photo Credit: Brian Bailey