Filling Local Food Pantries with Fresh Food

Last year’s bumper crop of garden vegetables enabled me to contribute fresh food to a nearby food pantry. There, I saw shelves full of locally grown vegetables, lovingly washed, trimmed and packaged by Dennis Chasteen especially for the pantry’s clients. Find out more about Dennis and how to get involved in helping to provide healthy nourishment for those in need in this recent article from The Wire:

Growing to Fill the Need

Lee resident Dennis Chasteen was up at 5 a.m. on a recent morning to harvest baby spinach from his garden before the heat became oppressive. A retired chemistry professor at the University of New Hampshire, he meticulously tends his 100-square-foot garden, growing more than 30 varieties of organic vegetables in raised beds.

Once he’d reaped a good haul of spinach, Chasteen and his wife began packaging the leafy greens into recycled containers that he stores in his garage, collected from former UNH colleagues and other friends. By 9:30 a.m., he was at the Seacoast Family Food Pantry in Portsmouth to give away the fresh produce.

Chasteen has been donating produce to local food pantries for the last four years. He makes the 30-minute trip from Lee to Portsmouth once or twice a week. Last year, he donated about 800 pounds of vegetables to the pantry, and he’s already delivered some 250 boxes of lettuce, spinach, and arugula this year.

“I enjoy gardening and I recognize that there’s a need. With the economy the way it is, this was an opportunity to give back,” Chasteen said. “It’s quite a lot of work, but I feel that it’s worthwhile and I enjoy doing it.”

Chasteen isn’t the only Seacoast resident making healthy donations to local charities. A growing number of organizations and individuals across the region are dedicating portions of their farms or gardens to area food banks and pantries, providing fresh and nutritious produce to needy families.

For local pantries, the giving comes at a critical time. The number of families requesting assistance has swelled dramatically in recent years.

“We have actually quadrupled in the last four years the number of people that we serve,” said Diane Giese, executive director of the Seacoast Family Food Pantry. In 2007, she said, the pantry served around 50 families each month. Now, they serve between 200 and 230 families per month. “It’s really huge.”

But, with help from local farmers and gardeners, the pantry has also expanded its offerings over the last few years. Located adjacent to Portsmouth City Hall on Junkins Avenue, the pantry’s shelves once were filled almost exclusively with nonperishable canned goods. On a recent weekday, patrons could find fresh corn, apples, potatoes, arugula, tomatoes and more—even kumquats. They also offer eggs, cheese and milk, as well as meat donated by Hannaford Supermarket.

“We’ve gone from basically not offering anything that is fresh like that three years ago to having this wonderful selection of great, healthy things for our families,” Giese said. Read more at The Wire…

For more information on food pantries that accept donations of fresh food, please check our resource page: Visit to learn about the Plant a Row for the Hungry program in the Seacoast.

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