Harvest sweetens pantry giveaways
Freshly picked sweet corn a bonus for pantry families
DANVILLE — Each summer, Madison Smith looks forward to sinking her teeth into ears of hot, buttered corn.
But she realizes that not all kids have a chance to eat fresh produce.
That's why the 14-year-old Danville girl enjoyed helping with a project to bring free sweet corn to them and their families.
"It's really, really good," said Madison, who on Monday afternoon was bagging ears of the sweet stuff at the Danville Area Food Pantry, which is giving it to low-income families. "It makes me feel good knowing that people who wouldn't normally have this get to have some, too."
The donation is courtesy of Peer Court, Inc. and Matt and Stacey Sims of State Line Farms in Indiana, and it's just one project the youth adjudication program is doing this year to kids — volunteers like Madison and those performing community service — about nutrition and stamping out hunger.
Earlier this summer, about 20 to 25 youths helped plant a vegetable garden in the Elmwood Park neighborhood on the city's southeast side. They will sell some of their produce at the Farmers' Market in downtown Danville in a couple of weeks.
"One of the goals of Peer Court is to teach kids to give back to their community," Executive Director Katie Osterbur said. "We thought these projects would be a great way to show them how they can make an impact and about good nutrition and where their food comes from."
Matt Sims said he plants about an acre of sweet corn on his farmland, just across the Illinois-Indiana border, for his family and landlords.
"A few years ago, we realized we had way more than we could eat, so we started donating it to different churches" with food banks, he said.
This year, he and his wife, who are neighbors with Osterbur's parents, decided to also donate to the food pantry. The couple, along with several volunteers, picked it over the weekend, and brought it to the pantry, at 141 N. Walnut St., on Monday.
"We've gotten some zucchinis, cucumbers and tomatoes this year," food pantry Chairman Chuck Brooks said, adding they were brought in by master gardeners. "But this is the largest donation (of fresh produce) we've gotten, and it's the first time we've gotten sweet corn.
"It's not something (clients) are used to having. They can't afford to go to the Farmers' Market or buy it at the store. So this is really a treat for them. We started handing it out today, and judging from what's here, it will probably make it to next week."
Brooks said the food pantry serves about 400 to 500 families a month.
"This summer, it's picked up even more with kids being out of school," he said. "I just can't thank them enough. We've been in existence since 1982, and we're the oldest food pantry in the area. We couldn't do it without donations like this from them and the rest of the community."
Peer Court's garden project is overseen by former director and volunteer Paul Sermersheim, who taught the kids how to clear the beds and plant tomatoes, cabbage, okra, peanuts, among other things.
"We had done some gardening with the University of Illinois (extension office). But this is the first one Peer Court has taken on on our own. The kids have really enjoyed it," Osterbur said, adding some of the produce will be donated to hungry families.
And some will be sold at the Farmers' Market, between the library and war museum in downtown Danville, on Aug. 23. Osterbur will also have information on her organization to pass out to visitors.
"We're going to bring some of our produce and try to sell it. But our goal isn't to raise money; it's to show and teach kids how to sell it and make change and tie it into the business aspect."
Established locally in 1993, Peer Court is for youth offenders, who have admitted their guilt or participation in offenses such as breaking curfew, littering, possession of drugs or alcohol, criminal damage to property, burglary, unlawful use of a weapon and assault.
The offenders appear in Peer Court for a sentencing hearing, at which time testimony is heard and volunteer youth attorneys argue for what they feel is an appropriate sentence. Then youth jurors deliberate and return a sentence that generally includes community service hours, restitution, written apologies, education programs and the requirement to serve on a Peer Court jury.