By SAMANTHA MCDONNELL
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Often times, gardeners will grow too much produce. When faced with this problem, farmers and gardeners have a dilemma of where to take their produce. Finally, there is a solution.
AmpleHarvest.org is a non-profit website founded by Gary Oppenheimer in 2009. The site is to link up gardeners and food pantries.
"I was taking over the directorship of a community garden. It hit me one night, when that process was going on, ... when I couldn't find food pantries in my town on Google, I then realized other people would have the same problem," Oppenheimer said.
Once Oppenheimer realized there was a problem, he wanted to find a solution. He said the idea for the website came to him randomly one night.
"What was interesting was that I had this idea one night ... and the next morning I got up to see if the domain AmpleHarvest.org was an available domain," Oppenheimer said. "When I found the domain was not being used, I grabbed it."
The domain was available and the organization was born. Oppenheimer said since he spent the money on the website, he did not want it to go to waste. After the purchase of the website, he created a slideshow presentation about what the website should look like.
"That was the start of it. I was in untested territory. No one has ever done this before," he said.
AmpleHarvest.org is similar to a search engine such as Google but it is specialized to food pantries and connecting gardeners to those food pantries. In three years in existence, the website has over 5,300 food pantries registered to the site with more pantries signing up on a daily basis. Oppenheimer said if one out of 10 gardeners were to donate one bag of food, 1 billion pounds could be collected. Last year, the organization documented 20 million pounds of food donated.
Pantries as well as other organizations that hand out food such as a women's shelter can register on the website free of charge. There are requirements that pantries must meet including having no cost associated with distributing the food, be in the United States and be a not-for-profit organization.
"All of the qualifications are clear cut but they are all very simple," Oppenheimer said.
While the site is currently successful, Oppenheimer would like to see more progress.
"I am both thrilled and frustrated. I am thrilled it is making a difference. I am thrilled that it is being seen as being important enough and worthwhile enough that Michelle Obama has spoken about it. ... I am frustrated by the fact that we can't do more because we haven't' yet received the support that we need," Oppenheimer said.
Oppenheimer explained the organization receives grants but they do not cover the full amount needed to have the organization operate at optimal levels.
"We're doing 15 mph but we should be doing 60 or 70 mph," he said. "Once we are running ... at 60 or 70 mph, more food will get to more people faster."
In order to do the full speed Oppenheimer would like, a professional staff would need five to six full time employees. Currently, the organization has 1 1/2 staff in addition to volunteers.
Locally, there are three food pantries that accept fresh produce that are listed on AmpleHarvest.org. The South Dayton Food Pantry, the Silver Creek Food Pantry and the Rural Emergency Food Pantry in Westfield are all registered through AmpleHarvest.org.
The South Dayton Food Pantry will accept fresh produce on Mondays from 2 to 6 p.m. as well as the third Monday from 9 a.m to noon. Donations may also be dropped off on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The food pantry at the United Methodist Church in Westfield is located at 101 East Main St. and is held every Tuesday from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
Anyone interested in helping with the organization may visit www.AmpleHarvest.org/waystohelp.AmpleHarvest.org has an iPhone and Android apps available. More information on the organization can also be found on Facebook by searching "AmpleHarvest.org" or on Twitter @AmpleHarvest.
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