Earlier this year, Boy Scout Alex Boyle of Naperville turned to the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry for ideas about a potential Eagle Scout project.
Their answer surprised him. They didn't need help sorting donations or even refurbishing their space. Instead they came up with a more hands-on project: developing a garden to grow fresh vegetables for their food pantry clients.
"Actually, I'm interested in gardening," Alex says. "So when I found out they would sponsor the project, I knew I was ready to get started."
However, Alex did more than grab a shovel and some plants. He began recruiting more supplies from area merchants and he drew quite a response.
For starters, the Naperville Park District donated one of their community garden plots for the project, while Menards gave him a generous discount on his garden supplies, he says.
Plants were donated by Lizzie's Garden, Jewel Food Store, the Growing Place and Keller's Farmstand, all in Naperville, and Sid's Greenhouse in Bolingbrook.
What's more, Chick-Fil-A and its spicy chicken biscuit sandwich, donated multiple coupons. The better to motivate his fellow Scouts, Alex says.
Alex held planting day in late May, and he drew not only members of his Troop 75, which meets at Good Shepherd Church in Naperville, but family and friends as well to help get started.
It was a good thing. He planned for an ambitious garden, with 32 tomato plants and 37 pepper plants.
"I am excited about how the project is going," says Alex, who will be a freshman at Metea Valley High School this month. "I have already donated two pounds of green peppers and have a lot of tomatoes growing."
Officials with Loaves & Fishes have several gardeners donating produce from their gardens, but few are as young as Alex.
"We're excited that Alex chose growing vegetables for Loaves & Fishes as his Eagle Scout project," says spokeswoman Jody Bender. "His crops will help us to ensure that we have plenty of fresh produce for our clients throughout the growing season."
However, Mother Nature stalled his progress. After the heavy rains at the end of July, he found his garden plot flooded with up to seven inches of rain, and he fears he may have lost many of his pepper plants.
"I hope the tomatoes will make it through," he says.
Alex is doing more than donating all of his harvest to Loaves & Fishes. He is recruiting contributions from other community gardeners at the park district plots to help nourish needy families served by the food pantry.
It's all part of the lessons learned from being involved in Scouts, Alex says. He joined Cub Scouts in first grade and has continued to progress in rank and leadership. Completing his Eagle Scout award will fulfill a lifelong dream and put him among the rare four percent of Scouts who remain involved long enough to attain the ambitious level.
Alex says he plans to stay involved in Scouting once he finishes his Eagle Scout project. That is, when he's not busy with high school activities.
At Metea, he plans to run with the cross country team and remain involved with his church, Wheatland Salem in Naperville, where he volunteers with the tech program for children.
Gardening and growing fresh produce for food pantry clients, he says, is an outgrowth of his church and Scouting activities.