An unusual garden stood out among the many stops on last month's garden walk hosted by the Schaumburg Garden Club: a 5,000-square-foot vegetable garden, whose sole purpose is to raise fresh produce for the local food pantry.
"We're hoping to encourage people to join us," says Jan Doud, Schaumburg Garden Club president.
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Visitors saw flowers planted around its perimeter, including purple cone flowers, day lilies, irises and sweet peas, but it was the rows and rows of vegetable plants that Garden Club members hoped planted a seed.
Dean and Deanna Bruckner serve as project managers of the garden and they hope to repeat last year's harvest, when they donated more than 2,000 pounds of vegetables -- picked right from their garden -- to the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry.
The couple always liked gardening around their Schaumburg home, and started growing vegetables in containers as a new challenge. Their mission of growing fresh produce for the food pantry came after Dean started to volunteer for Schaumburg Township, and he saw the need for more nutritious foods.
"Everything these people get is packaged," he says. "They really need more fresh foods, so that's something we can do."
The couple figures they have been tending a "pantry garden" for nearly 20 years, and slowly they have been drawing more garden club members to join them.
For the last three years they have been tending their vegetables in a garden located behind Lord of Life Lutheran Church, on the south end of Schaumburg. Church officials provided the free land -- and water -- and Garden Club members provide the manpower.
The Bruckners and other volunteers come to the plot three times a week, to weed, water and harvest.
"It's just satisfying to be able to help people that need help," says Marian Colliander of Schaumburg. "When you're our age, and your kids are grown, it gives your life meaning."
Another volunteer, Steve Larson of Schaumburg, enjoys growing vegetables so much, he grows another garden behind his church, the Covenant Church of Schaumburg, which he devotes entirely to tomato plants.
"It's just a joy," Larson says simply.
Despite the near record-breaking drought this summer, Garden Club members have donated quite a bit to Schaumburg officials, including radishes, broccoli, onions, squash and beans.
They are waiting for the rest of their crops to come in, including tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, eggplant and peppers. They also expect to harvest more beans, having re-planted them again after harvesting them the first time.
Barbara McGinn, with Schaumburg Township's general assistance department, says the Schaumburg Garden Club is one of their largest contributors. In fact in April, Dean and Deanna Bruckner were named "volunteers of the year" for the general assistance department.
"The families who use our pantry look forward to harvest season when fresh vegetables are donated," McGinn says.
She points out that the vegetables are placed in the client choice part of the pantry where they can add it to their monthly pick-up.
"We have diversified clients, who have various dietary needs," McGinn adds, "so they look for a variety of nutritious vegetables and appreciate the choices they have."
Those diversified clients continue to grow, McGinn says. This year Schaumburg Township's food pantry averages about 500 household visits monthly.