Produce market stocks charities for needy

October 24, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Every Friday morning, boxes of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons, grapes and other produce fill a stretch of sidewalk on West Washington Street, turning the city block into an impromptu farmers' market.

But there is a difference. At this open-air market, there's no cash, no sales receipts, no profits. Just dozens of food-filled wooden crates -- all free to the city's neediest inhabitants.

The weekly program is the only one of its kind in Anne Arundel County, allowing charities to stock their food banks with fresh fruits and vegetables donated by local merchants from the Maryland State Wholesale Market in Jessup.

And every Friday at 5:30 a.m., Jane Morrell can be found at the bustling nighttime market, looking for donations and surveying the merchandise. Ms. Morrell runs the nonprofit group Food Link, which last spring started the "Produce People Care Program" to bring fresh, locally grown produce to families in need at three different sites in the Annapolis area.

At the wholesale market, she collects the unsold edible produce, items either not fresh enough to sit for a week on a grocery store shelf, or simply leftovers from the day's business. Either way, much of it is still fresh -- and all of it is headed for the trash.

That's where Ms. Morrell intercedes.

"It's good food," said Ms. Morrell, 46, who has lived in Annapolis for nearly a decade. "It shouldn't be thrown away. It feeds people."

Ms. Morrell, the daughter of a country doctor in Wilkes Barre, Pa., doesn't view her volunteer job as a part-time hobby. She usually gets up before her alarm rings.

Ms. Morrell recently won recognition from the state, picking up a "Maryland You Are Beautiful" award for her two years of work on the volunteer program. She shies away from that recognition and explains the program's success as being the hard work of 85 local volunteers.

"We don't have the money and we don't have the equipment, but we have the strongest, most dedicated people working here," she said.

Dozens of those volunteers were on hand Friday at 9:30 a.m., when a 20-wheel Ford truck pulled up to the Stanton Center, 92 West Washington St., for one of Food Link's weekly produce drop-offs.

Ms. Morrell was standing on a tomato crate, helping to direct several thousand pounds of produce in more than 500 cases off a Ford truck and into the vans of charity groups.

"We don't know what we're going to get or how much we're going to get, but today's a good day," Ms. Morrell said.

The amount and type of produce donated each week depends on the season, the weather and the consumer demand.

At the West Washington Street site, many volunteers come straight from the community. Clarence James stopped to unload boxes of cucumbers and corn during his walk to work -- his dress clothes protected under a poncho he fashioned from a garbage bag.

"I grew up in this neighborhood," said Mr. James, 38.

"Now I want to do something for it," he said. "I want to give something back."

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