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Harvesting hope in the fight against hunger

by Christine Galeone

According to Feeding America, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unemployment to soar and food insecurity to rise. The national nonprofit and authority on food insecurity stated on its website that in 2020 in the United States, “more than 54 million people may face hunger because of coronavirus.” It’s a startling thought.

But\, thankfully, many of this country’s nonprofits are doing everything they can to prevent that from happening. One leader in the fight against hunger in Massachusetts is based here in the Blackstone Valley. Throughout the pandemic, Community Harvest Project has made tremendous progress in that ongoing battle.

Based on farmland in North Grafton, CHP is a nonprofit farm that plants, grows and harvests produce for area food banks and hunger relief organizations. The nonprofit also has orchards in Harvard. For both locations, CHP engages the community in its efforts to fight hunger by harnessing the energy and kindness of (normally) thousands of volunteers who help farm a wide variety of nutritious produce.

During the pandemic, the nonprofit has been especially busy. “CHP focused all its efforts, this year, in providing fresh fruits and vegetables for hunger relief,” Victoria Buerschaper, CHP’s Development Manager, said. “To date, we have harvested and donated 101,339 pounds of produce – or 456,993 servings – to our 20 partner agencies, including the Worcester County Food Bank, Community Servings, Jeremiah's Inn, and Hector Reyes House.”

But while it’s been a busy year for the nonprofit, it’s also been a challenging one. Buerschaper said that since the pandemic prevented CHP from benefitting from the efforts of the more than 7,500 volunteers who normally help farm each year, the nonprofit had to drastically change its farming practices, including increasing its reliance on automation in the spring.

“With the help of the Reliant Foundation, we purchased a water wheel transplanter to ensure our 15 acres of farmland in Grafton could be fully planted with a small group of staff members and core volunteers,” Buerschaper explained. “We also had to completely revise our volunteer operation and protocols, relying mainly on individual volunteer recruitment, instead of groups, and requiring all volunteers to sign up ahead of time for contact tracing. The volunteers that have been able to come out this year have been extremely dedicated, and we've harvested more produce to date this year with 30 percent of the volunteers we hosted last year.”

However, to continue its successful fight against hunger in Massachusetts, CHP needs more help.  In addition to donations and help raising awareness, the nonprofit needs more volunteers.  Buerschaper said that because it’s the harvest season, there are “tens of thousands of pounds of produce to harvest.”

“With new COVID-19 protocols in place, we are hosting volunteer groups of 30 or less through October 16 in Grafton – Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. through 12 p.m. – and groups of 25 or less to pick apples in Harvard through October 31st – Monday through Friday 9 a.m. through 12 p.m.” she said. “All volunteer activities take place outside with social distancing. Individuals can sign up to volunteer in Grafton at the link posted on our Facebook page every Friday.”

For more information about volunteering for CHP, please visit the Community Harvest Project website, https://community-harvest.org/volunteer/ If you would like to suggest a Blackstone Valley nonprofit or initiative for this series, please contact Christine at [email protected]