STAFFORD – The Stafford Community Garden at Lake Manahawkin is developed, worked and sustained by the community for the community, giving the fresh produce grown from the garden to local food pantries.
The Stafford Community Garden is a part of the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean, which is a non-profit, volunteer-only organization that provides financial support to local food banks through fundraising events and donations. Their mission statement says “We are a local, all volunteer non-profit organization with a mission to support local food pantries as they assist our residents with their basic food needs, and to help educate the public of the basic food needs of individuals and families in our area.”
According to the Hunger Foundation’s website, one in five children in New Jersey are not sure where their next meal is coming from, and approximately 165,500 elderly and disabled residents rely on food assistance.
What makes the Stafford Community Garden unique is that it’s grown collectively and anyone in the community can grow and take produce.
“The idea is that we can grow produce and people who need it can come and pick it when it’s ripe,” Ellen Dondero Meyer, Treasurer of the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean said. “Anybody who’s walking by the garden, if they see a ripe tomato, is welcome to pick it because we don’t have any way to monitor that anyway. The idea is a lot of the food pantries don’t have the facilities to handle fresh produce. They give out a lot of canned goods and things of that nature, but as far as fresh produce it’s hard for some of those people to be able to get. Now there’s a place where they can go. When we have an abundance of produce that week, on Wednesdays our volunteers will pick them and deliver the produce to the local food pantries.”
The Garden also serves educational programs to kids who want to learn how to grow. Some programs include their summer Read and Wheat, Spring Work Days, Fall Mulch Workshop and more. Many organizations also come to help and volunteer.
“Part of it is education, so people are aware of the amount of hunger we have in our community and we get a lot of volunteers, Girl Scout Troops, Boy Scout Troops come to the garden and work with our farmer Dennis,” Meyer said.
Farmer Dennis explained how they are always trying to improve the garden to produce more fresh goods for the community.
“We are currently working on ‘the drip irrigation system” we are contemplating. We are also implementing crop rotation this year to try to improve the production and health of our plants.”
The Foundation has raised more than $1.5 million which has been donated to local food pantries to assist neighbors in need since 1995.
The Foundation supports the following local pantries: Barnegat Food Pantry, Fr. Ken’s Kitchen at St Mary’s Parish, Greater Tuckerton Food Pantry, King of Kings Church, Lacey Food Bank Program, Ocean Community Church, St. Francis Community Center, and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
Alongside the Community Garden, the foundation holds numerous fundraisers and events to raise money for these food banks. One of their iconic fundraisers ‘Taste of Southern Ocean” Event is normally their main Spring fundraiser. This year, they will be holding a ‘Taste @ Home’ event on June 8.
To learn more about the Stafford Community Garden and the Hunger Foundation of Southern Ocean, visit hfoso.org.