Covenant Church members on a mission to grow crops for the hungry
Members of the Covenant Church of Schaumburg don't mince words.
The name for their garden plots located just south of the church building, off of Meacham Road, says it all: They call it their One Ton Garden.
That's how much weight in vegetables they aim to grow each summer and donate to the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry. This year, with the drought and extreme conditions, they may fall short, they concede, but they still expect to reach 1,000 pounds by the end of harvest, or one-half ton.
"We like projects," says Meta Anderson of Hoffman Estates, whose husband, Dan, is the church pastor. "The church garden is one of our favorites. It builds a sense of community and helps us give to others. We love doing this."
Church members credit Steve Larson of Schaumburg with spearheading their garden project. This is the fourth year he has led them in growing vegetables specifically to help feed local families in the area, and he has it down to a science.
For starters, they grow mainly tomatoes. This summer alone, they are nurturing 200 tomato plants.
"I don't know, I just love tomatoes," says Larson, a retired customer service specialist with United Airlines. "And so do the food pantry clients. They're easy to grow and you don't have to do much with them in order to eat them."
They also planted zucchini and some asparagus, but the tomatoes that are their bread and butter. However, since he has concentrated much of the garden on the same crop, he has devised ways of feeding the soil with more nutrients, rather than rotating crops.
So far, they have been responding.
Typically, after the Sunday service, Larson rounds up church members to go out and work in the garden. Lately, it's been all harvesting.
Last week, Larson and other volunteers made their way through the rows and rows of tomato plants, harvesting handfuls at a time. They carefully washed and weighed them before delivering them to the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry.
"I just like knowing it's feeding people that are hungry," said Tina Lawrenz of Hoffman Estates, one of the church organists and coordinator of the Sunday School program.
Officials at Schaumburg Township say they have been feeding about 500 families per month.
"The families who use our services look forward to harvest season when fresh vegetables are donated to the food pantry," says Barbara McGinn, of Schaumburg Township. "The vegetables are placed in the client choice pantry where they can add it to their monthly pick-up."
McGinn adds that the clients they serve are diversified, with various tastes, cultures and dietary needs.
"But they all look for a variety of nutritious vegetables and they appreciate the choices we are able to give them, thanks to our community gardeners," she says.
Another volunteer who helped to harvest on Monday was Richard Neidl of Schaumburg. He and his family have been church members for 45 years, or nearly from its beginning.
"I come when I can," Neidl said. "It's a ministry for the church."
In fact, church leaders list its One Ton Garden at the top of their list of ministries on their Web site, in sharing what they do with prospective members.
"Everything we do in this garden is for the food pantry," says Nancy Erickson of Hoffman Estates, chairwoman of the church board. "It's fun and it feels good to be helping others."
Church members cannot seem to get enough of growing things. In October, they will unveil a pumpkin patch, which they hope will yield up to 2,000 pumpkins for sale.
Proceeds will benefit some of their favorite ministries, including the Feed My Starving Children organization in Schaumburg, the Kenneth Young Center in Elk Grove Village and camping scholarships for young people in their church.