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Demand soars at food banks for homegrown produce

It was already hot at 10 a.m. Outside the Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank, a couple dozen people were lined up in the blazing sun waiting for the 11 a.m. opening. Barbara Bennett, the food bank’s director, was handing out numbers and sending folks to the shade of the auditorium. “We had people fainting in the heat last week. Even still they don’t want to lose their place in line.”

While the line forms outside, volunteers inside are busy unpacking the morning’s donations of fresh garden produce brought in by backyard gardeners. There’s zucchini, summer squash, dill, beans, the first tomatoes and cucumbers. Still, by the end of the day these donations and more will be gone and some folks may not get in on the bounty.

The story is the same at all the food banks in the region. “We are seeing a 10 to 30 percent increase in demand over last year,” said Melissa Cloninger, community relations manager for Second Harvest Inland Northwest.

So here’s the deal. Our vegetable gardens are busting with ripe stuff, probably more than we can eat. We have neighbors who are hungry and willing to stand in lines in the sun to get some food. So, take that extra produce to your nearest food bank. Get your neighbors, church and social groups to join you. Every pound donated is four servings of fresh food packed with vitamins and minerals.

Donating is easy. Locate your closest food bank by going to Second Harvest’s Web site – – and clicking on the “Get Help” tab. Check out what hours they are open and taking donations; most food banks are open only certain days of the week.

Any type of vegetable or fruit in any amount is welcome, but sturdy vegetables and fruits commonly available in the grocery store are the most popular. Fragile greens and herbs need to be delivered the day the neighborhood food bank is serving clients. Ask for a Plant a Row for the Hungry donation receipt that allows you to take $1.50 a pound as a federal tax deduction.

It’s that simple. You will be amazed at the smiles on people’s faces when you drop off the produce.

As we get into the fall, don’t forget the squash, apples, pears and fall vegetables. Hunger doesn’t have a season.

Help us add to the more than 300,000 pounds local gardeners have donated in the last nine years. That’s 1.2 million servings of fresh food that would have gone to the compost pile, or worse, just left to rot.

Plant a Row for the Hungry is sponsored locally by The Inland Empire Gardeners and nationally by the Garden Writers Association.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached at