For Gary Oppenheimer, 2007 was a year of plenty.Blub.
His backyard garden produced a bountiful harvest with a surplus of spaghetti squash, melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for his family. At the end of the season, Oppenheimer had 40 pounds of excess fresh produce -- and nowhere to take it.
…Oppenheimer took the produce to a local food pantry at a battered-women's shelter. When he dropped off the food, he was struck by the response he got from the shelter worker.
"[She] thanked me profusely, and as I left she said, 'Now we can have something fresh to eat,' " Oppenheimer recalled. "That stuck with me because I remember walking away thinking, 'What? They have canned stuff only all the time?' "
…In 2008, Oppenheimer became the director of the West Milford Community Garden in West Milford, New Jersey. He learned that toward the end of the summer, plots were often abandoned and good food was sometimes left to rot.
He tried to find a list of his town's local food pantries online where the extra produce could be donated. A Google search showed the nearest food pantry was in another town, 25 miles away -- when in fact there were six food pantries in Oppenheimer's town of West Milford.
Oppenheimer knew he had stumbled upon a gap in information that could rescue fresh produce from a wasteful end and potentially save lives.
"I realized that if I'm having this problem as a gardener, then other people across the country must be having the exact same problem," he said. "I got up the next morning, and I went on the internet, and I grabbed the domain of AmpleHarvest.org."
…The free online resource enables food pantries to register and be listed in a central nationwide directory, and makes it possible for American gardeners to easily find the local pantries where they can donate extra produce.
You know, there are a lot of people who think that social justice work is futile, because people are fundamentally bad, or ruthlessly selfish, or incorrigibly apathetic. Or all of the above. I don't believe that. I believe that the vast majority of people are good—or would be, given the opportunity and the inspiration and the expectation that they aspire to kindness.
I frequently say of ugly things that nothing happens in a void. But decency doesn't happen in a void, either. There are good people doing good things all over the place, and that goodness has the capacity to be infectious every bit as much as hatred does.
Have a wonderful weekend, Shakers—and try to put a little bit of something good out there. I shall endeavor to do the same.