St. Vincent de Paul Gets Green Thumb

Charity Garden Supplements Pantry Needs

Summer is the time for gardening, and each year St. Vincent de Paul’s green thumb goes toward a good cause – helping the 700 families who use the food pantry each month afford fresh produce, as well as supplementing the free Fellowship Meals provided twice a week.

The charity’s garden across the street has been planted for about six years by dedicated individuals. It was first started by Deb Steltenpohl, Director of Outreach Services after plans for a building on the corner site were scrapped due to limited space. That first year, she watered it every day by carrying buckets across the street.

Today, a hose makes the process easier, and the torch was continued by board president Jerald Lang until this year, when Simplicity Credit Union employees made the garden their mission.

“It helps supplement our pantry,” said Steltenpohl. “We’ve been really blessed with that.”

Along with accepting regular donations of fresh produce from area grocers, she said locals who have a surplus in their gardens are more than welcome to drop off donations at the Outreach offices. There’s no form to sign or any other hurdles, making it easy to prevent food waste while getting connected with those who can make use of the produce.

While St. Vincent de Paul runs a government food program, the produce is accessible to everyone and can be used outside of a normal pantry run. Steltenpohl welcomes those in need to browse the day’s offerings out in the hallway.

More produce will come from the charity’s garden later in the summer. “One time we had so many cucumbers in our garden, we made pickles,” she said. “We had a simple recipe, then a sample so they could taste it.” The pantry also set out the ingredients so that families could make the recipe at home.

As for other needs, the pantry always welcomes donations of baking ingredients, which they can package down into smaller bags, cans of fruits and vegetables, pasta, rice, peanut butter, jelly and boxed meals. Personal care items are always a need, and St. Vincent de Paul always tries to have shampoo and toilet paper available. Other welcome donations include toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, Depends, and diapers.

“It’s stuff people don’t think about, and it’s expensive,” noted Steltenpohl.

The organization works with many local organizations and businesses to provide for other needs, partnering with Kwik Trip next door to offer optional vouchers for milk, eggs, and butter. Wenzel’s donates thousands of pounds of meat packed down by volunteers (home meat can be donated as long as it was processed by meat processor).

The charity also takes on food that was refused on delivery at groceries, such as the time they took in 4,500 pounds of zucchini, which they helped distribute to local organizations. Another time, Nasonville Dairy donated a pallet of unexpired yogurt that had been refused elsewhere, as the truck there to pick up cheese didn’t have anywhere else to put it. Since the yogurt was perfectly fine, St. Vincent accepted the donation. The other pallet was donated to United Way’s NOW program.

Besides vegetables, summer sees an increase in need at the pantry because kids are on summer vacation. The number of families who use the pantry has doubled since Steltenpohl started her position thirteen years ago, but staff and volunteers remain dedicated to helping out people however they can, even if it’s just to point them in the right direction. Other services provided through Outreach include a free medical clinic, rental assistance, and clothing and furniture vouchers.

“I think if someone is eligible and struggling to meet their needs, I say, please come monthly,” she said of the food pantry. “You’re welcome to stop in our hallway to check for bread or sweets or produce. If it can help you save some money in order to pay off another bill, I say go for it. Use our program: don’t abuse our program.”

Proceeds from the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store is what allows Outreach to exist, she said. Additionally, they can give vouchers for people to fulfill their clothing and furniture needs at the store.

Helping the community is a continuous process, and donations are always appreciated to help them serve families in need. “Thank God we live in the community we do, because they’re very giving and generous,” Steltenpohl said.