Helping to fight hunger and promote healthy eating

What started with a small plot and a single volunteer in 2002 has grown into an organization that now produces and donates almost 400,000 pounds of fresh food each year to food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, free farm markets, faith-based pantries and more in the state of New Jersey. Called the America’s Grow-A-Row 9 (AGAR), they grow, glean and give away free fresh produce by organizing groups to plant and harvest from their own farms and their partner farms.

The Bridgewater Employee Sustainability Team (BEST) from Surface Chemistry were so inspired by the success of their community involvement on the occasion of Earth Day last year that they did not have to think twice to continue their actions on Earth Day 2013. Earth Day’s overall objective is to improve our Planet and it was almost an obvious choice for our Bridgewater’s Green Team to choose America’s Grow-A-Row for their community activity supported by the Community Program.

Grow-A-Row started as a humble initiative by Chip Paillex. After seeing a plea from the Flemington Food Pantry requesting that any gardeners donate excess produce, Chip and his daughter Kyra, who was four years old at the time, cultivated their own garden and donated about $3,000 worth, or 120 pounds, of produce that year. Since the program’s inception over a decade ago 1,729,000 pounds of produce have been donated to various food banks across New Jersey. Equally impressive are the 2,100 people who volunteer annually to make the program a true community effort. The program plays a much needed role in NJ because it is estimated that over 12% of the state’s residents suffer from hunger and sadly, 1 in 5 children in New Jersey is food insecure. Apart from providing the food, the organization also provides information about hunger and the importance of healthy eating, particularly for young children.

On April 15, a group of more than twenty employees from Surface Chemistry took part in the Earth Day activity initiated by the Green Team at America’s Grow-A-Row. The enthusiastic volunteers started their day with a lunch to provide fuel for the afternoon. Their task was to assemble flip top benches/tables which will provide a source for AGAR volunteers to rest and eat their lunch while they work in the field. Twenty benches were constructed that were proudly painted AkzoNobel blue. With these convertible park benches, the organization also offers students and inner city youth to have a place to eat and learn about hunger and healthy eating. In addition, our volunteering colleagues participating in the project felt a renewed sense of accomplishment and successful teambuilding, as can be concluded from their reactions:

‘Earth Day was an excellent opportunity to come together as a working community and to show that AkzoNobel desires to be sustainable as a business and a leader in sustainability’, James Grant, Technical Screening Chemist. ‘It made me feel that I was blessing someone with blessings I have already received. I felt complete’, Victoria Harvey, Sr. Customer Sales & Support Specialist.

‘I believe it is a wonderful cause to fight hunger and educate others about eating healthy and providing healthy food for them’, Maureen Leonard, Office Coordinator. ‘It was an excellent team effort that was fun and productive. We should do more of these types of activities where we help our community and get a chance to be together in the great outdoors’, Gary Martino, RD&I Director.

And AGAR expressed their gratitude by featuring the AkzoNobel Team in the monthly Volunteer Spotlight: ‘for building and painting over 20 park benches that can be converted into picnic tables. If that was not enough, they also paid for all of the supplies and materials to complete the job! What a great addition and much needed gift to the farm this year. The benches will be used often throughout the season during our educational programs, when our inner-city youth guests visit the farm and, of course, for all of our volunteers to enjoy after any of our harvest events. Thank you again to our Volunteers of the Month: Team AkzoNobel!’