Group of volunteers alleviates hunger one vine at a time

St. Rose of Lima Church’s Sister Dolores Outreach Program gives families facing food insecurity healthy fruits and vegetables through their Fresh to Families program.

Food insecurity is defined by the Department of Agriculture as a state in which consistent access to food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.

Rosy Vasquez, project coordinator, said the Fresh to Families program started three years ago with the basis built on Project Nutrition, an effort by the church to be more health conscious with the food distributed at their food pantry.
“We looked at what we give out and are starting to back away from any sweets and things like that and really try to replace that with fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Other healthy options the pantry gives out are distributions of brown rice over white rice and  canned fruit in water, not glucose.

Fresh to Families provides access to fresh nutritious food to families who are often unable to buy healthy local food because of cost or availability, Vasquez said.

The program’s concept is a three-pronged approach called the three G’s — gardening, gleaning and giving. The first component is to get community members to grow a fruit or vegetable garden.  Vasquez said currently there are about 10 Fresh to Families gardens planted in the city. One garden is planted in Eastlake, three are in the Terra Nova area and the rest are in western Chula Vista. Three of the 10 gardens are about a half-acre to an acre in size.

The second part is to glean, the rescuing of fruits and vegetables that would go to waste. Lastly, completing the process is getting volunteers to pick the fruit and vegetables and help in the distribution of them.

“What’s really great about Fresh to Families is that not only are we addressing food insecurity but probably one of the more expensive food stables that people need,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said with those three components in tact, Fresh to Families has successfully given out 5,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables to the community every week. On Wednesday’s for about two-hours, about 150 to 200 individuals will receive fruits and vegetables for their families.

The program is made possible by a Chula Vista Charitable Foundation grant and a grant from the county of San Diego, totaling $16,500.  The grant allows the outreach program to purchase seeds, oils and other necessary materials. Vasquez said implementing a garden costs $300 to $500.

The goal, Vasquez said, is to encourage gardeners to plant 10 plants to feed their families while having enough to share and donate to the food pantry. Vasquez said two plants of tomatoes could feed a family of four.

Although Fresh to Families is part of the St. Rose of Lima Church’s Sister Dolores Outreach program lead by senior pastor Pat Dolan, one does not have to be a church member to be beneficiaries of the program because it is part of a community based organization.

The program has already received high accolades as it won the Excellence in Nutrition award from Feeding San Diego and were recently were recipients of the Ribbons and Shovels award for enhancing the community in a vibrant way with the gardens.

“We are really kind of one of the few pantries in the South Bay that gives out fruits and vegetables,” she said.