OLEAN — When DB Busan began managing the supply of food at the Olean Food Pantry eight years ago, the facility received anywhere from four to 12 people who stopped in for help on designated days.
Now the pantry has as many as 60 people on those days, and helps 450 families a month.
For that reason the pantry staff and board decided to expand the facility’s community garden to include a high tunnel, which has extended the season to provide fresh produce to participants.
On Monday, Busan, manager of the warehouse, and Walter Schultz, manager of the high tunnel, showed off the growing area, located next to the pantry on Leo Moss Drive.
“This is a dream we’ve probably had for two to three years,” Busan said of the high tunnel that was built using funds and volunteer help from the Olean Rotary Club as well as a grant. In addition, concrete blocks were donated for the project by Portville Concrete Products.
The tunnel, which is warmed by ambient heat, consists of solar panels, fans and a rainwater collection system to water the plants. In all, pantry officials figure the structure would have cost $5,000 to $6,000 if it had been constructed by contractors.
Schultz said that while the growing season has ended for the outdoor garden, inside he continues to grow tomatoes, peppers, celery and a variety of herbs for at least another month or more. In addition, the pantry staff hope to start seedlings in the high tunnel in early spring and later transplant the produce to the outside garden.
“It’s about as green as it can be,” Busan said while walking through the tunnel. “We’ve noticed a real difference in our customers because we spend a lot of time educating our people … right now we have more fresh vegetables being taken (by recipients) than canned.”
Schultz, who owns a computer business in Olean, said volunteers with the pantry help with the weeding and care of the plants in the tunnel.
Busan said the pantry clients also did more gardening at the facility this past summer by adopting plots and caring for the community garden at the facility.
“The gardens started back when Maureen Curry was here, and they were using little kids’ wading pools” filled with potting soil to grow vegetables, Busan said of the former pantry manager.
She said the pantry has not only grown with the high tunnel and expansion of the outdoor garden, but now has a large waiting area for clients and a warehouse that can store large deliveries of food.
Boy Scout Troop 733 from Wellsville volunteered this summer to rebuild the original community garden and outline it with blocks. The troop learned of the need through one of its Scouts, Jacob Claus, whose mother, Tiffany, volunteers at the pantry.
“We also have a partnership with Canticle Farm ... so we get lots of fresh vegetables from them,” Busan said. “And we have lots of gardeners (in the community) who have too much zucchini” and donate them along with other produce.
Busan said the pantry is always in need of monetary donations, which helps the facility purchase supplies from the Food Bank of Western New York.
“There’s a real need, and we have the most amazing group of volunteers,” Busan concluded. “Everybody here is a volunteer, there are no paychecks and there are no egos.”
For more information on providing donations, visit the Olean Food Pantry website.