Helping Hands of Kilgore is helping locals make healthy food choices with the public pantry's monthly Produce Drops.

The food pantry teams up with the East Texas Food Bank to distribute fresh fruit and vegetables to the community once a month and the event draws dozens to the charity at 201 S. Martin St. The Produce Drops have been a regular occurrence at Helping Hands for nearly four years, said Executive Director Ursula Plaisance, and Monday's drop was well-attended.

“Yesterday there were about 90 (people), Plaisance said. “The cold kind of deters some but that's still a good turnout.

Occasionally, more than 100 people will show up to fill bags with fresh produce.

The drops are open anyone in the Kilgore area.

“Any resident in the KISD school district, Plaisance said. “It's a Kilgore community-wide produce drop. There's no questions asked, just bring two bags.

More than just feeding the hungry, the Produce Drops have the added benefit of promoting health in the lives of those who show up for the free fruits and veggies.

“We're trying to get fresh fruits and vegetables into everyone's home. That reduces illnesses and doctor's visits.

The East Texas Food Bank, based in Tyler, receives fresh produce from Feeding Texas, a nonprofit organization, local growers and through retail distribution centers. The result is varied of mix of fruits and vegetables offered for free.

At Monday's drop, bagged or boxed items included apples and salad mix while bok choy, bell peppers and cantaloupes were offered individually.

“The food bank purchases food from suppliers so by getting those fruits and vegetables they're able to provide that to those who do the produce drops, Plaisance said, adding the healthy food items are also making their way into food offered to families in need by Helping Hands.

“They're encouraging more people to get on that bandwagon. It's such an asset to our community to have that. If any of the produce is left from the Produce Drop it's integrated into our pantry and they're able to choose some.

She added that volunteers helped make the drops go smoothly as there are plenty of hands available to bag up produce and hand it to those waiting in line. At Monday's drop, the Kilgore College softball team stopped by to lend a hand.

Anyone interested in volunteering or pitching in with the Produce Drops can call 903-984-1796. Helping Hands of Kilgore is open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Produce Drops are scheduled for noon on the second Monday of each month but Plaisance said people can show up early to take a number to save their place in line. Also, the drop day giveaway begins after a truck arrives to drop off the produce but the truck may be a bit early.

“The truck drops off produce anywhere from 11:30 to 12, Plaisance said. “We have to have time to set it all up. When the produce is gone or we have just a few things left, then we pretty much shut it down.

She added that if people wish to volunteer and all available volunteering spots are taken, Helping Hands can put volunteers on a schedule to volunteer at a future time which works for them.

Kilgore News Herald

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