If you have ever been a volunteer, you may know how easy it is to become truly involved with the organization you are supporting to the point of becoming an integral part of the team. Helen Yarmoska, aged 54 and retired, has been dubbed “assistant farmer” by some of the guests and fellow Farm for All volunteers at Loaves and Fishes Minnesota, a nonprofit meal program serving hot meals to those in need throughout seven counties in the state. Farm for All is a farm-to-table approach at four locations across the Twin Cities for guests who otherwise would not have access to produce and fresh foods.
“My brother is actually involved; he used to take his kids to serve meals,” Helen says of how she was recruited to help. “When he said they had a farm, I got excited and knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
Loaves and Fishes Farm Manager, Kimberly Greene-DeLanghe, says Helen, a Master Gardener, is one of the essential recruits who keep the farm/garden sites going. Kimberly even joined the Master Gardener program to help spread the word about the volunteer opportunities for enthusiasts at their farm locations.
Helen says she jumped in with both feet and is now site coordinator for their Woodlake location in Richfield, Minn., just minutes from south Minneapolis. Woodlake feeds about 80 people on Saturday and 60-80 guests on Sunday; it’s the only dining site open on the weekend.
It’s a good feeling you get when you’re planting a seed and knowing that you’re helping feed someone who’s hungry. You think people are wealthy in some of these suburbs out here, but poverty happens everywhere.
— Helen Yarmoska, Loaves and Fishes Volunteer
“Now I plan the garden,” Helen says of her volunteer duties at Woodlake. “One of the things done before was having a mish-mash of vegetables growing, like having two tomato plants at the garden. That’s not going to feed 60 people. So, when we planned out the site for this year, I did it in such a way that there’s enough of something to create whole meals from. Like carrots, they can be harvested at once, and I’ll let the chef know we have carrots coming in so they can coordinate the menu accordingly. The intention at my site is to grow the food, pick it, and serve it right there, right where it was grown.”
For Helen, her dedication in helping Loaves and Fishes create healthy meals for Minnesotans goes beyond her passion for gardening. Guests also learn more about nutrition and the food they eat because of its proximity to where it’s grown. Meals consist of a salad, entrée, and dessert, which is always some sort of fruit instead of something sugary.
“It’s nice to see the kids getting good healthy meals,” she adds. “It’s a good feeling you get when you’re planting a seed and knowing that you’re helping feed someone who’s hungry. You think people are wealthy in some of these suburbs out here, but poverty happens everywhere.”
Helen would like to see the efforts of Loaves and Fishes Minnesota expanded, which includes helping the organization raise funds for a large capacity refrigerator and freezer. Last year, the nonprofit served more than 500,000 meals at their dining locations, more than ever before. The need for nutritious meals is growing as poverty widens its reach from the inner cities to the suburbs.
“With food storage space, we could accept more and bigger food donations like produce, dairy, and meat,” says Patti Sinykin, Loaves and Fishes director of development. “This is our next level of growth now that we can sustain recruitment engagements through the $50,000 NobleCause grant we received last year.”
The NobleCause national grant to foster volunteerism, addressing community concerns at the local level, allowed the nonprofit to grow its Farm for All concept by recruiting committed volunteers like Helen.
“Kimberly can only do so much,” Helen says of the Loaves and Fishes farm manager. “I go to the Woodlake garden at least once a week and go to Coon Rapids, our one-acre farm, as much as I can to help with weeding and help organize any volunteers who come.”
Helen believes her experience at the garden has given her the gratification in retirement she was looking for. “It’s not like writing a check. This feels even better, getting my hands dirty and watching the sprouts grow. It tugs at your heart.”
The farm/dining sites offer various volunteer opportunities like preparing the meals, serving guests who come to eat, and maintaining the gardens. Helen prefers to be outside, planting the broccoli families will enjoy later on. “That’s how I serve,” she says.
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Dolly Duplantier is a freelance writer, editor, and social media specialist. She is the mother of three children, one college graduate, one in college, and one in high school. Writing about people and organizations making a difference is one of the best aspects of her job!