Say what you will about this summer's unpredictable weather, but this much food pantry coordinators know: Conditions were ripe for harvesting fresh produce.
A random sampling of drop-off sites in the Daily Herald's Giving Garden campaign, indicates gardeners adapted to this summer's wet, cool conditions and harvested plenty of fresh vegetables for needy families.
Take the Schaumburg Township Food Pantry for starters. Its administrators report abundant produce delivered this summer, mainly by two lead groups: the Covenant Church of Schaumburg and the Schaumburg Garden Club.
Together they combined to contribute nearly 1,000 pounds of vegetables from their gardens, and tended by faithful volunteers.
At the Covenant Church, congregation members often stay after Sunday services to tend the garden and harvest its many crops.
"This was our first year, and it really produced well," says coordinator Steve Larson of Schaumburg. "Our garden is almost in full sun, so that helped this summer, but we had some fantastic crops."
He points to all the tomatoes the garden yielded, as well as eggplant, zucchini and even potatoes. Every Sunday they harvested them so they could make their delivery on Monday mornings.
"People so enjoy getting the fresh produce," says Lin Greidanus, Schaumburg Township associate director of welfare services. "And we've seen so much variety this year."
She points to the amount of tomatoes, peppers, green beans and zucchini brought in, as well as fresh herbs, which proved to be very popular.
Pantry officials place the produce on a table out front, along with day-old bakery goods donated by area grocery stores and bakeries. The combination makes for a powerful draw, and leads families to check out the supply, apart from their normal food pantry visit, Greidanus says.
Dean and Deanna Bruckner of Schaumburg serve as project managers for the Schaumburg Garden Club. After having tended a community garden plot for years, the club now cultivates nearly 3,000 square feet of land, located behind the Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, and it is solely dedicated to feeding the hungry.
Around the membership, they call them simply, the "Pantry Gardens." The Bruckners figure conditions were so good this year they have donated nearly 500 pounds of produce from their gardens alone.
"It's been producing very, very well," Dean Bruckner says. "At the beginning of the summer, numbers were lower because the plants had a bad start with so much rain, and they didn't have a chance to mature."
But in August and September, the garden hit its stride, producing bountiful supplies of the traditional tomatoes, peppers, green beans and zucchini, as well as beets, carrots, turnips, leeks and onions.
Volunteers tended it two to three times a week, for one hour at a time. They divided it into sections, with walking paths, making it easier for volunteers to maneuver. A fence, donated by Home Depot in Schaumburg, kept animals from raiding the garden.
"Our members just enjoy helping out," Dean Bruckner says. "There are a lot of people in need these days, and we figure this is something we can do."
Over at Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry in Naperville, coordinators have had a good response from both backyard and commercial gardeners, who have donated 11,000 pounds of food in just the past two months for pantry clients. Sweet corn and tomatoes have been the most donated crops.
"We have had a lot of individuals plant an extra row this year, just for us," says Jody Bender, food pantry spokeswoman. "We've been very pleased with the amount coming in, and the selection."
At Geneva Green Market, officials enjoyed seeing some of the vegetables that mature in late summer and early fall, from Brussels sprouts, lettuce and beets, to the various types of squash and even pumpkins.
"This has been such a great program, and we're happy to contribute," says Karen Stark, market coordinator. "We just want people to know that the harvest doesn't stop at the end of summer. It stretches through October, when some of the more unusual vegetables mature."