Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Power of ONE - The AmpleHarvest.org Story

Bergen LEADS is all about making a difference, and the class was treated to an excellent example of how just one person can change things for the better.  Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org, was a guest speaker at the seminar on Economic Development and the Environment in April.  Gary’s leadership in helping to address the issue of hunger in the United States gave class members an excellent primer in social entrepreneurship.

There are many millions of people in America who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. These people don't have access to adequate nutritious or healthy food on a daily basis and suffer from "food insecurity -" living in fear of hunger or starvation because of lack of food and nutrition”. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), approximately 49 million Americans were hungry or at real risk of being hungry in 2008. Put another way, that is about the population of Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia - added together!

For this reason, Gary Oppenheimer founded the AmpleHarvest.org Campaign in 2009. Gary is the director of the West Milford Community Garden and noticed that a lot of the produce that was planted and grown wasn’t being used and eventually rotted in the garden. He decided to donate the fresh produce to the nearest pantry, but when he Googled for one he found that the only pantry listed was 25 miles away. Gary then began to put together a directory of pantries, where hungry people and gardeners alike can locate local pantries.

Gary has joined forces with some of his friends to provide numerous ways in finding a pantry, and making the process easier for everyone. The AmpleHarvest.org Website is a great directory. I tested it out for myself and found that there are 31 pantries registered with AmpleHarvest.org within a 25 mile radius of my zip code. The directory is not only for New Jersey. It is working for all 50 states, so anyone in the US can look up pantries in their area. This is also good for people who travel or have homes with gardens in other states.

Aside from the website, Gary also has a Twitter account for AmpleHarvest.org. Twitter users can follow the program and receive news updates. There are also other followers on their Twitter page who may be of interest, such as community gardens and hunger prevention programs. You can also friend AmpleHarvest.org on Facebook.

For all you iPhone and iPod users, Gary has made it easy for you to get information. An iPhone/iTouch application was created, which helps the user identify near-by pantries through their device. For example, if you are at the supermarket and see that there is a sale on produce; all you have to do is check the application on the phone and it will tell you what pantries in your area are in need of what. If there is a sale on tomatoes then you can buy extra tomatoes and bring them to the food pantry that needs them the most. It is just another way to help.

Gary is looking to expand AmpleHarvest.org, and met a willing and responsive audience in Bergen LEADS.. Gary encouraged people to print out an AmpleHarvest.org Campaign poster at www.AmpleHarvest.org and go to local supermarkets, garden shops, etc., and ask if it can be placed where people can see it.  Class members suggested that the flyers be placed directly in the produce isle at a supermarket and not just the bulletin board in order for the message to be more visible. 

Gary's year long efforts on AmpleHarvest.org has already been noticed. In late May, Gary was announced on Larry King's CNN Hero of the Week and interviewed by CNN for his work with the AmpleHarvest.org anti-hunger campaign. Due to the media coverage, the organization has received great exposure . Gary says, "In one 3 hour period, my inbox blew past 400 emails, the web site was hammered with visitors (all good news), and a few donations also came in (also good news)." Gary asks that we all help spread the word about AmpleHarvest.org and forward the interview link to friends and/or family. 

Fighting hunger is a constant battle in America and all over the world. There are more people going hungry, and others are resorting to fast foods and unhealthy diets resulting in obesity and health risks. AmpleHarvest.org is great way to help those who are in need of a better diet. If you know of a food pantry that is not yet registered please provide them with the AmpleHarvest.org Campaign Website. Registration is very simple and it can help stop hunger.

For more information on Bergen LEADS, or this seminar, please contact Amanda Missey at amissey@bergenvolunteers.org.

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