It’s a drizzly afternoon, and garden facilitator Michael Covey is kneeling in the grass, picking a few stray dead leaves off beet plants.
These beets were grown in the school garden, and they’re about to be delivered to the River City Food Bank, along with some spinach and lettuce.
He scoops up the beets and carries them to where senior Rio Liu, a student garden volunteer, is sorting through some lettuce.
She and Covey were out in the garden early in the morning to harvest the lettuce. If they had waited, the sun could have warmed the plants, causing the sap to run up from the roots and into the leaves of the lettuce, making it bitter, Covey said.
At the beginning of the year, Liu knew nothing about lettuce and when to harvest it. That’s because she had never gardened before, she said.
Then she signed up for the community service elective and found that the garden needed a volunteer. So she’s been working there every other day since the beginning of school.
She’s preparing the veggies to be delivered, and now she and Covey have encountered another problem. Some of the lettuce has suffered freezer damage because the MP room refrigerator, where he stored it, was set too cold.
Liu is visibly frustrated with this setback. Some of the damaged heads have to be thrown in the compost.
“That’s so sad,” she says.
Liu has been in charge of the beds devoted to the food bank since school started.
Although she was nervous to start gardening, she said “Dr. Covey is really nice” and has taught her a lot.
She enjoys planting seeds and watering the most.
“To see the seeds you planted before coming up and becoming vegetables, that’s pretty exciting,” she said.
Next Covey and Liu bag the spinach and add those bags to the plastic bins full of spinach and beets.
Then it’s off to parking spot 11, where the school’s white Suburban is parked.
Covey and Rio load the bins into the trunk and hop in the car.
The last time he delivered, Covey had a hard time parking. This week he vows to do a better parking job, he says with a laugh.
The Country Day garden donations began when substitute teacher Barbara Edwards started to take some of the leftover harvest to the food bank, where she volunteers, according to Covey.
“And when I heard about this,” Covey said, “I said, ‘Well, we should start beds dedicated to the food bank.”
SCDS has been providing the food bank with fresh produce for the past three or four years, Covey said.
Winter crops donated include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and beets, “things that don’t mind cool weather,” Covey said.
Throughout the rest of the year, the garden donates produce such as squash, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
The number of delivery runs depends on when there are “pulses of harvests,” Covey said.
During the slower season, the donations are monthly. But when the harvest picks up, it’s every one or two weeks.
This is the first year that students have been involved in delivery runs to the food bank.
“I’m hoping that it will help generate a broader awareness and spirit of giving,” Covey said.
A short 10 or so minutes later, we arrive at the food bank at 1800 28th St.
Covey wasn’t kidding when he said he would solve the parking problem. He pulls right up in front of the door.
He and Liu open the trunk and get the four bins out.
Meanwhile, 30 or so men and women are waiting in a line outside on the left side of the building to be screened and gain entrance to the food bank.
The food bank typically serves 150-200 families a day, according to Jena Robinson, program and operations assistant and volunteer coordinator at the River City Food Bank.
While November is an especially busy month for the food bank, so are the summer months, Robinson said.
Sometimes, Liu said, there’s a line that snakes 30 feet away from the food bank.
Liu usually sees more women than men and not many children when she goes on delivery runs, she said.
Upon walking in, we’re met with a flurry of activity.
There’s a front desk, where there’s a scale for weighing donations and the food the clientele takes.
On the left, there’s a waiting room, where people wait yet again before going through the food line.
Then there’s the food line. Volunteers help people file through.
Most of the donations clients have to choose from are boxed or canned, Liu and Covey said.
The food bank especially appreciates donations of proteinaceous foods, according to Robinson. These foods, such as peanut butter and tuna, are the most expensive items the food bank buys, she said.
She said the food bank doesn’t like ramen and doesn’t accept cookies, cakes or candy, as they stay away from unhealthy foods.
And that’s why they’re so grateful for the school’s vegetables.
“(Bringing) some fresh green vegetables is really good for (the clients),” Liu said.
Covey says the fresh produce is scarce and that there’s a real need for it.
“It’s satisfying to be able to fulfill some of that need,” he said.
And finally, on the right, there’s another army of volunteers, sorting through and transferring food, emptying baskets, loading boxes and keeping everything under control.
The Country Day produce is weighed (an impressive 26 pounds) and quickly sent to the right side of the room. Then the produce is transferred from the bins to paper bags.
The volunteers’ attention is centered on the produce, though. Men and women of all ages react to the fresh veggies.
“Whoa, that looks good.”
“Yay, where’s this from?”
“Oh, my goodness! How wonderful!”
The response to the SCDS fresh veggies is overwhelming.
River City Food Bank receives fresh produce from farmers’ markets and local gardens, like Country Day’s, Robinson said.
In 2014, not counting December, the food bank received over 9000 pounds, 9376 to be exact.
While the Country Day produce wasn’t handed out right away while we were there, Liu said that sometimes it is.
“It’s actually hard to make (the produce) last the whole day,” Robinson said.
The produce that took love, care and patience to grow is delivered in a second and placed in the hands of grateful clients.
Despite the frequent delivery runs with donations of many pounds of veggies, Covey and Liu never make a real connection with the clients.
“In honesty, in part because of the parking situation and because of the time constraints, (deliveries are) kind of a blitzkrieg,” Covey said.
But at the end of the day, “it’s the general enthusiasm regarding what we bring that moves us,” Covey said.
“It’s really rewarding to know that you’re helping people and not hurting anyone,” Robinson said.
“It’s an added benefit that I don’t get paid for.”