Seniors in need rely on ATH produce for good nutrition

By Victoria Cherrie, Development Director

Joyce Johnson lives in a low-income senior living complex in KCMO and relies on a pantry for the bulk of her food every month. Mostly she gets canned goods. And occasionally there are soups and grits. But there is seldom any produce, she says.

“Sometimes there are grapes or apples, but it’s rare,” she says. “It’s hard to come by.”

That’s why Joyce, 79, and her neighbors are so joyful about the farm-fresh produce they receive from After the Harvest.

“We never take it for granted,” she says. “We know that someone – a farmer – has put some hard labor into every piece of fruit or vegetable in order for us to have the benefit of something to go in our mouths.”

Across America, nearly 8% of Americans or 5.5 million people 60 and older are food insecure. That includes 8.2% of seniors in the Kansas City metro who lacked consistent access to enough food in 2018, according to a 2020 study released by Feeding America.

The global pandemic has exacerbated hunger among the elderly, including those in our community who rely on produce from ATH for good nutrition. While social distancing is a must to minimize the spread of the virus, it’s also preventing food-insecure seniors from accessing regular meals at senior centers and collecting food from pantries at a time when staying healthy is more critical than ever.

Through our Truckloads Program, ATH rescues semi-truckloads of imperfect produce that could end up in landfills and brings them to Greater Kansas City for wide distribution by our partner, Harvesters – The Community Food Network.

While not every pantry or agency is reached, W.T. Bolen, a longtime ATH volunteer, sees that none of the produce from those trucks or our Gleaning Program gets wasted.

Bolen, pastor at Temple of Faith COGIC, volunteers at mobile food pantries at different churches across the city and uses a personal flatbed trailer to deliver any leftover fruits and vegetables every week to families and others who wouldn’t otherwise receive it. That’s how he came to know Joyce and her neighbors, who live on fixed-incomes and are limited in their mobility.

“I know there are so many people who don’t have anything,” W.T. says. “They may not have the transportation but they need the food.”

Bolen, 66, grew up picking and cutting cotton in farm fields in Shreveport, La. It taught him the importance of farmers. Being one of eight children, he too understands what it’s like to live minimally and be grateful for every ounce of the earth’s goodness, he says.

When W.T. collects enough leftover produce, he calls Joyce and she calls her neighbors.

“They line up with little carts and hand held baskets to enjoy the blessings of what ATH donates to us,” he says. “Just seeing them come out to get the food is a blessing to me every time.”

If you’d like to help After the Harvest provide more healthy food for hungry people this holiday season, donate to Buck$ for Trucks.