Share the Bounty tables help those in need eat healthier in Shawano County

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-02 13:23:30-04

SHAWANO COUNTY, Wis. — On 36 acres in Red River, Sue Hennigan grows just about every vegetable imaginable.

"We've got cabbages, brussel sprouts, broccoli," she explaines while walking through her garden.

"I'm sitting on this land, and I thought I would love to do something that's helpful."

The retired nurse manages a team of volunteers that plants, grows and picks produce on her property to donate to The Fresh Project.

"Our goal is to get accessible, affordable food to everybody," said Executive Director Barb Mendoza.

Her nonprofit organization has eight gardens throughout Shawano County.

"All the produce that we collect from the garden, we donate to our Share the Bounty tables, to the food pantries throughout the county and to our shelters."

Although wet and cool weather this Spring delayed the growing season, last week, Hennigan was able to harvest some of her vegetables and transport them to a Share the Bounty table in downtown Gresham.

"Anyone can drop off. Anyone can pick up. It's just as simple as that. No questions asked," Mendoza explained.

Ron Huebner has been visting the tables since The Fresh Project started stocking them two years ago.

He said, "You feel better instead of eating all the junk food."

Mendoza said for low-income families living in rural areas, lack of transportation to grocery stores and the higher cost of fresh produce, compared to processed foods, are often the obstacles that prevent people from eating healthy.

The Fresh Project conducted a survey a few years ago to assess the problem.

"One third of the residents that took the study within Shawano County are food insecure," she said.

But with The Fresh Project's 18 Share the Bounty tables, 12,000 pounds of free produce got into the hands and mouths of people in need last year.

"To me that's very awesome," said Hennigan. "Especially in our world today where so much food is processed and easily obtained. It's kind of helping change the culture and the way people think."

Mendoza added, "We don't spray. Everything is natural. They know where the food is coming from."

She hopes with the help of more passionate volunteers, like Hennigan, The Fresh Project will continue to blossom.

"I really appreciate every little hour that people provide to our organization because without them, we can't do it."

The Fresh Project also has community dinners, educational gardens for school children and, new this year, a mobile market where they bring nutritious food to the food deserts of Shawano County. There, people can buy fruit, vegetables and meat from local farmers. The Fresh Project offers the food items at half the price.

The nonprofit also partners with local native nations, county government, churches and more. They're supported by donations and a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.