Every Cub Scout promises to "help other people" and for members of Pack 1047 in Gilberts, that means vegetable gardening.
Last month, the Cub Scouts and their leaders headed out to their chartering organization, the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Gilberts, to plant their crops. Together with Boy Scout Pack 1047 they once again planted a Giving Garden, created solely to provide fresh produce to their local food pantry.
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This will be the third summer the Scouts will have participated in the Daily Herald's Giving Garden campaign.
The summer program begins this weekend and runs through the end of September. That's when gardeners may bring in their donations of fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 50 local food pantries across Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties.
With the weakened economy, pantry officials across the suburbs are seeing numbers of visit soaring, consequently they are relying on gardeners to help them provide nutritious fruits and vegetables to families struggling to make ends meet.
But as the Scouts demonstrate, it's not just adults doing the gardening.
Two years ago when they started, the Scouts grew 1,000 vegetables, says adult volunteer Jennifer Mesko of Gilberts, including peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers. Last year, their harvest reaped 1,200 vegetables, and this year they expect to grow more.
All of their crops are donated to the FISH food pantry in Carpentersville, which serves 400 families a month, officials say, including those in East and West Dundee, Sleepy Hollow, Gilberts and Carpentersville.
Marilyn Mack of East Dundee coordinates the food pantry, and she says summer is the best time of year because of all the gardeners who contribute their fresh produce.
She draws a variety of individuals, church groups and others who regularly donate, but the Scouts from Gilberts are the only children who participate.
Her clients on the other end will never see the Scouts working industriously in their garden, but they appreciate having freshly picked vegetables, she says.
"They love it," Mack says. "We don't ever purchase produce, so we rely completely on what is donated."
Officials at Loaves & Fishes food pantry in Naperville are so excited about the return of summer and of the Giving Garden that they've added space in their reach-in coolers to accommodate more produce.
"We're increasing our emphasis on fresh, healthy foods and the Giving Garden produce will help us to provide more to our clients," says Jody Bender, spokeswoman.
Last month alone, they supplied groceries to 1,843 families, or nearly 7,000 people.
"The need is growing," she adds, "due to the major rise in both gas and food prices. We expect the need to climb to continue, which will increase the need for Giving Garden produce."
Likewise, officials at the Palatine Township food pantry are looking forward to the return of fresh produce from their generous gardeners.
"We appreciate any donation that comes in," Hoover says. "It goes out the same day it comes in."
It has to, she adds, since they have no refrigeration. They divide up how much produce comes in according to the numbers of families they expect to visit.
"The (Giving Garden) program has grown each year," Hoover adds. "A lot more people are becoming aware of it, and now they know they have an outlet for all their extra fruits and vegetables. It's a win-win."