Dominican Sister of Hope Bette Ann Jaster, OP is an environmentalist. After co-founding Earthlinks twenty years ago, she has worked to legalize beekeeping in the Village of Ossining, advocated against fracking in Westchester County, and even created space at Mariandale for neighbors to come and garden.

Sister Bette Ann Jaster

As much as Sister Bette Ann works for the good of Earth, she also sees first-hand the ubiquitous need for food. After working with the poor, she is keenly aware of how much others need fresh fruit and vegetables, especially during the summer when school lunches and breakfasts aren’t available to help feed kids.

Sister Bette Ann recalls from her personal experience that the end of the month is often difficult for families who have a hard time affording groceries “because food stamps don’t stretch that long.”

Helping our neighbors get enough to eat is necessary, and it can be easy to pitch in and make a difference. Below, Sister Bette Ann shares a few ways to get involved before summer ends.    

1. Deliver Fresh Produce

Sister gardens at Mariandale, and she’s happy to share the bounty with others. Each week, she brings a large basket of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to Ossining Food Pantry. Because folks from the community make deliveries on certain weekdays, Sister goes on Fridays when the pantry needs the produce most.

Every Friday morning, Sister Bette Ann heads to the garden and cuts the fresh goods immediately before delivering them.  The response, she says, has been overwhelming.

Sister Bette Ann’s one-week delivery to the food pantry

“By the end of the day, there are no more fresh vegetables left,” Sister says. “People of all ages come to the pantry, from children to older folks using walkers.”

Although there is always a need for non-perishable foods, healthy, fresh produce is needed, too. So, if you’re wondering what to do with your surplus of tomatoes (or any fresh-grown food) in the coming weeks, consider making a donation to your local food pantry. Even smaller foods like herbs help to make a difference. Although Sister makes large donations of foods like kale, peppers, tomatoes, and greens, she also donates mint, basil, and chives. They’re small, but still helpful.

2. Volunteer

Not a gardener? No problem. Food pantries are always in need of on-the-ground help, whether it’s signing people in, arranging food, picking up deliveries, or helping to pass out foodstuffs.

Recently, when Sister Bette Ann arrived at the pantry, it was so understaffed that she stayed and helped out.

“They need volunteers to come and distribute the food and set it up,” Sister says. After meeting new people and helping over eighty people get food that week, it was time well spent.

Donating money or food is valuable, but so is your time. Before school starts up again, consider how you might give some time to a food pantry near you. And don’t go alone: volunteering is even better when it’s a family affair.

Folks at the Ossining Food Pantry

3. Ask How Else You Can Help

Volunteering and donating are two obvious and important ways to help. However, Sister Bette Ann points out that many food pantries need help in ways that we often don’t realize.

“Many times, people don’t think of donating things like olive oil, or people don’t want to buy that because it’s expensive,” Sister says. “However, there is a need for it.”

The shopping list doesn’t end there. Depending on your local food pantry’s need, they might accept pre-made meals like those from Trader Joe’s that are healthier than many canned foods.

Moreover, many grocery stores or even restaurants might work with you to donate food in bulk. Ask your food pantry if they might use cases of foods on sale, or even leftover bread. Coordinating such an effort would no doubt be well appreciated.

4. Be an Advocate

You can help food banks across the United States without even leaving your computer. Organizations like Feeding America “identify and advance policy solutions” to help struggling families get the food they need.

Feeding America can help you find a food bank near you (this is only a partial list). They also have instructions on calling Congress to support feeding our neighbors. (Additionally, they have a list of Federal Food Assistance programs for readrers to educate themselves.) Learn more here, and be sure to check out recent hunger news at The AtlanticMashable, and The Times.

As Sister Bette Ann points out, we’ll never know the backstory of many people who visit food pantries, and we’ll never need to. “There are so many details that it’s better not to judge,” she advises. “We don’t know everything about everybody.”

Even without knowing why people in our communities are hungry, we can help. This summer, why not take advantage of the good weather and extra time? With a little effort, we can all pitch in to make our communities a little less hungry.