Produce porch feeds students

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Produce porch feeds students

Sarah Kenney hoards free produce on her porch to give to students in need.  Photo courtesy of Sarah Kenney

Sarah Kenney hoards free produce on her porch to give to students in need. Photo courtesy of Sarah Kenney

Sarah Kenney hoards free produce on her porch to give to students in need. Photo courtesy of Sarah Kenney

Sarah Kenney hoards free produce on her porch to give to students in need. Photo courtesy of Sarah Kenney

By Annemarie Carr / Staff Writer

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Among the chairs and welcome mat on Sarah Kenney’s Dawson Street home, she’s piled boxes of tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.

Depending on the day, the porch in front of her brick home and the sidewalk below it is stacked with other boxes of spinach, bannanas and apples — but little she plans to eat herself.

On most Friday afternoons, Kenney, a senior natural sciences major, saves produce from ending up in the trash and distributes it to Pitt students outside her South Oakland home. Her mission — keep food out of the trash and help Oakland by giving people something healthy to eat.

Kenney volunteers and interns with Community Human Services at the Oakland Community Food Pantry, which offers fresh fruits and vegetables to community members on Thursdays and Fridays. Produce leftover on Friday afternoons would typically go to waste because the pantry couldn’t give it out until the following Thursday.

For Kenney, that waste is no good. Instead, she loads it into the back of her friend, fifth-year Pitt student John Van Ness’, truck, brings it back to her home, then posts on a Facebook page to let the hungry students know to come. 

“Everything I give away would have been thrown away,” Kenney said.

Kenney has been bringing produce to students since last April.  Kenney first notified students of her operation through the “Free and for Sale” Facebook page within Pitt which currently has over 7,900 members. Kenney later started her own Facebook page titled “Free Produce for a Healthy Community” due to so much interest. Her page currently has more than 500 members.

“When I arrived [to load my truck] I couldn’t believe how much there was, we ended up filling the entire pickup bed and stacking it about 2 feet over the rails,” Van Ness said.

Van Ness said he helps Kenney because he and Kenney know students need to eat healthy food. Kenney also knows food plays a key role for everyone, and having quality food is important for people, including who they share it with.

“It’s important to live a healthy lifestyle now and for people to eat together,” Kenney said.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables daily for women ages 19-30. For men ages 19-30, the USDA recommends two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily.  The Centers for Disease Control released the results of a survey in 2009 that reported only 33 percent of adults meet the recommendation for fruit consumption and only 27 percent meet recommended vegetable consumptions.

Meg M. Mayer-Costa, a registered dietician at Pitt’s Student Health Services, said produce is an area she stresses with students looking to add color, variety, and balance to their eating styles. 

The amount of produce Kenney has to give away depends on how much is leftover at the end of the week. 

“The more people that are served [at CHS] the less I have, but that’s still a good thing,” Kenney said.

On a good day, she will get 30 to 50 pounds of produce to give away.

Trevor Smith, director of community programs at CHS, said the pantry serves about 1,500 people every month, reaching close to 200 people a day during the eight days a month CHS is open.

“We get enough produce for approximately 80 families for each of our distributions. If we have only 40 families use the food pantry that day, there’s leftover produce,” Smith said.

Kenney said there are about ten people who come every week as well as several newcomers.

Anna Josephson, a junior communication major, said she heard about Kenney’s porch through a friend on Facebook and stopped by over the summer, when Kenney’s porch was on Semple Street. Though she said she was hesitant at first, Josephson said Kenney welcomed her onto her porch. Josephson said she picked up some tomatoes, a head of lettuce and some squash.

Josephson said she used the lettuce and tomatoes to make several summer salads, and stuffed the squash for dinner one evening. Though she hasn’t been able to make it back yet this semester, Josephson was pleased with the experience.

“It was pretty decent quality and definitley healthy. I was happy it was free for sure,” she said.    

Kenney hopes to expand her operation and has asked grocery stores to notify her if they are throwing produce away, though she hasn’t received food from anyone in the last few weeks to give it away. Depending on the variety and amount of produce Kenney gets, she sometimes limits how much of each item people can take.

“I want to make sure lots of people are able to get some, but also want the people who come to get a good variety,” Kenney said.

Kenney hopes students will take her produce and learn to cook with it.

“It’s really hard to feed yourself healthfully on a college budget,” Kenney said. 

Smith said Kenney’s idea to give the produce to students saves him from wasting food.

“If we have lots of lettuce left at the end of the week, we could either throw it in the dumpster because it won’t last until our next distribution, or Sarah can give it to people in the community. I much prefer the latter option,” Smith said.

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