The Kroc Center Partners with Local Organizations to Distribute Fresh Produce to Families
Before she started her internship with the Latino Center of the Midlands’ Siembra Nebraska program this past June, Andrea Calderon Alvarado had what she calls “zero gardening experience.” Three months later, the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) biology major not only knows how to plant, tend and harvest vegetables, she’s also learned how to can pickles, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers.
Alvarado is one of 14 Siembra Nebraska interns working with The Big Garden, an Omaha-based non-profit that collaborates with schools, faith communities and other organizations to plant community gardens. As part of their internship experience, the students partnered with The Salvation Army Kroc Center to host three drive-thru produce distributions in September.
“We decided one of the best ways we could help our community during the pandemic was to offer the produce we’ve grown and harvested and the vegetables we’ve canned to people who are really in need right now,” said UNO student and Siembra Nebraska intern Andrew Genchi Bello.
On September 14, the interns and Big Garden staff distributed 75 boxes of produce and canned fresh vegetables to families in need who came to the drive-thru at the Kroc Center. Supplies ran out in an hour, so the following Monday the interns and staff doubled the number of food boxes containing homegrown tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and other produce, plus jars of fresh salsa that had been canned by the interns in the Kroc Center’s kitchen the previous week. On Monday, Siembra Nebraska and The Big Garden hosted their third and final produce giveaway at the Kroc Center.
“Since the start of the COVID pandemic we have definitely seen an increase in food insecurity in south Omaha as families are dealing with job loss and additional expenses,” said Auxiliary Captain John Gantner of the Kroc Center. “We are working with the Latino Center and other area organizations to help families overcome food insecurity and offer them healthy choices, even when their budget is limited.”
Siembra Nebraska Program Director Juan Cangas acknowledged that the Kroc Center has been one of their most encouraging, active partners. “Without the Kroc, I doubt we could have done a produce distribution on this scale,” he said, noting the dozens of cars lined up across the Kroc’s parking lot on Monday.
As for Alvarado and Bello, they are thrilled to have gained gardening experience and had the opportunity to help their community during a time of need. “We didn’t know what to expect when we launched the first produce drive,” admitted Alvarado. “We were so happy to see that it was a huge success.”