Boy Scouts are known for their resourcefulness - but who knew they had green thumbs?
In Gilberts, Cub Scout Troop 1047 and Boy Scout Pack 1047 are working together to tend a Giving Garden, planted solely to provide fresh produce to their local food pantry.
And boy have they produced.
Last year, they harvested nearly 1,000 vegetables, and already this summer they have surpassed that total. Typically, they bring 10 to 15 bags of vegetables when they donate to their local food pantry. Last month alone, adult volunteer Jennier Schorsch of Gilberts delivered 100 cucumbers.
It works, the adults say, because of the number of boys involved, who divide up its care.
"Every week a different group of boys tend the garden," says Tony Lombardo of Gilberts, Troop 1047 Scoutmaster. "During their week, they are responsible to handle all the weeding, watering and harvesting. They decide how many times they need to come."
They are assigned in patrols, he adds, and some of the older Scouts who serve as patrol leaders and assistant patrol leaders supervise their work.
"It's the teamwork, and coming out and helping each other that makes it work," says 12-year old Devin Formell of Gilberts, an assistant patrol leader.
This is the second year the Scouts have nurtured a giving garden. They began last summer, carving their plot from land donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, their chartering organization in Gilberts.
So far this summer, they have picked zucchini, cucumbers and green peppers, and they eagerly look forward to a bumper crop of tomatoes.
Their fresh vegetables all go to the FISH Food Pantry in Carpentersville FISH is an acronym for Friend, I Shall Help. The pantry serves 400 families a month, officials say, including those in East and West Dundee, Sleepy Hollow, Gilberts and Carpentersville.
Marilyn Mack of East Dundee coordinates the food pantry, and says summer is the best time of year because of all the gardeners who contribute their fresh produce.
She draws a variety of individuals, church groups and others who regularly donate, but the Scouts from Gilberts are the only children who participate.
Her clients on the other end will never see the Scouts working industriously in their garden, but they appreciate having freshly picked vegetables, she says.
"They love it," Mack says. "We don't ever purchase produce, so we rely completely on what is donated."
After starting the garden with the Cub Scouts last year, the Boy Scouts jumped on board this year to help.
"We've had even more interest this year, with even more participation," Schorsch says. "Word has spread how much fun it is."
The fun part comes, she says, when it's time to harvest. But they also enjoy delivering their goods to the food pantry. Volunteers all know the Scouts, and they greet them excitedly.
Their leaders say the experience has been affirming for the Scouts, when they see the fruits of their labors mature in the ground, and then hear from pantry volunteers how many families will benefit.
"We're always looking for things for the boys to do," Lombardo adds. "This offered two benefits: it's a community service project for them and it's an educational opportunity. Not too many of them have gardens in their backyards."
Schorsch hopes their prolific giving garden will plant a seed with other Scout troops looking for a hands-on project with so many benefits.
"It's just a good feeling, when you walk out of that pantry," she says. "You leave feeling good."