A Whole Community's newest connections bring more donated produce to People to People

A Whole Community's newest connections bring more donated produce to People to People

The Wooster-based nonprofit organization, A Whole Community Inc., has a mission to create opportunities and foster wholeness at local, regional, national and international levels.


The organization's wide-ranging vision seeks to see individuals, families and communities become healthy, whole and vibrant financially, relationally, physically, spiritually and emotionally.


The vision will be realized through connecting with communities to identify a need and then by designing creative, sustainable solutions. AWC's initial program, The Community Food Project, is underway in Wooster and surrounding areas with a two-fold goal: to decrease food waste and to increase the local produce available to schools, served meal sites and food pantries.


Karen Potter, executive director of AWC, views her work as ministry, donating her time to the organization.


"All the people I have met and their stories, hearing about their passion and why they do what they do, whether they are serving food, doing a food pantry or growing food, I feel like I'm the connector and coordinator of their resources," Potter said.


During the time AWC was working on initial plans, Farm Roots Connection, a Wooster-based cooperative of local farmers, was working with entrepreneurial students at the College of Wooster to develop a plan with some similar goals.


The students had taken on the project to develop a business plan for the cooperative that would allow the farmers to sell shares of their farm bounty to community members in order for the harvested produce to then be donated to People to People.


The completed plan, named Harvest Share by the students, was completed in May, and Potter attended the presentation of the business plan.


"I was in the audience listening," Potter said, "smiling and affirming their thoughts and ideas, knowing that what they were proposing was very similar to what was already in the works through AWC."


Potter contacted Farm Roots Connection to discuss how the groups might work together. A few weeks later the cooperative made a decision to dissolve their organization and donate all remaining funds to AWC. A computer and printer were donated as well.


AWC is currently using the donated funds to purchase produce for donation to People to People and is exploring ways to continue the donations when funds run out.


Potter's organization has had a full summer of locating produce donations and distributing them to a wide range of area organizations, food pantries and meal programs.


After seven weeks 12 farms donated 350 bushel boxes/cases of vegetables, which were delivered to eight food pantries in Wayne, Holmes, Ashland and Medina counties, feeding more than 760 families.


Although the Community Food Project will come to a close for the season on Oct. 4, Potter already has a full schedule of meetings with area organizations.


"I will be speaking to organizations, meeting with partners to plan, writing grants and fundraising for next season, which will start in June," Potter said. "It's very exciting to see how so many different people and organizations want to be a part of the Community Food Project."


A big goal is to obtain funding to purchase equipment and supplies necessary to flash freeze. This will enable the group to donate fresh produce all year long and will ensure the very minimum of food waste.


AWC relies heavily on community involvement. "We have such a neat array of volunteers, all different ages and backgrounds," Potter said.

As in all her connecting, Potter has been creative in drawing the community in to the project. Volunteers include College of Wooster students, retired individuals, a Department of Job and Family Services summer youth worker, OARDC researchers and a home-schooled teen whose mother is incorporating the AWC volunteering into her child's curriculum.


Charles Runion, Potter's husband, is the board president and self-described "delivery muscle." He drives the delivery truck, donated weekly by D & S Distribution. "He helps with every aspect, every week," Potter said.


AWC delivers to Northwestern School, Community Action Head Start Preschool, and numerous food pantries and meal programs.


"One week we got 79 bushels of green peppers, so I said we needed more outlets. It all happened through connections, and we quickly went to four different counties," Potter said.


Potter explained the advantages of being able to deliver their produce. In addition to providing the service for small meal sites and pantries that might not have the resources to get into town to pick up, Potter said she likes meeting everyone personally. And more often than not with master connector Potter, nearly everyone she meets leads to more and more community connection.


"Next year our goal is to have the steamer and flash freezer so we can decrease food waste even further. Say a green pepper comes in and has a soft spot. It can easily be cut off, and we can flash freeze the rest, and we'll have produce year round," Potter said.


All these added activities will require more and more volunteer assistance.


Currently AWC's three main sources of food are Amish farmers, OARDC research farms and growers who sell through Local Roots. Additional growers also are needed. Served meal sites and food pantries interested in receiving produce also may get in touch.


For more information visit www.awcinc.org or email Potter at Karen948@gmail.com.

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