HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Becky Steffa is usually the one who answers the back door at First United Methodist Church in Hannibal to let groceries and people involved with Loaves and Fishes come inside.
Volunteers with the city's Victory Over Hunger community garden ring the church's doorbell on nearly a weekly basis to deliver bags of produce freshly plucked from the vine, and Steffa takes the bags, does an inventory of what is delivered, and then sees how the produce can be incorporated into the nonprofit free meal program held at the church.
"The produce truly serves a wide variety of people," church secretary Steffa said. "Many come just because there is fresh produce in their meals."
During the garden's inaugural year in 2017, about 1,100 pounds of vegetables were harvested for Loaves and Fishes through October. This year, the goal is to harvest even more from the lot located on the northwest corner of Adams and Sycamore streets in Hannibal's south side.
"We learned a lot from last year," Victory Over Hunger Garden founder Gordon Ipson said. "It's looking a lot better than it did last year. We've already been able to deliver 40 bags of produce to Loaves and Fishes since we planted late April, early May."
An expanded array of vegetables have been planted this summer. Currently growing are iceberg and romaine lettuce, mustard and collard greens, squash, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes and sweet potatoes, peas, beans, cabbage, tomatoes and more. Surrounding the garden are pots with flowers, which act not only as decoration but also attract pollinators.
Master Gardeners, Kids in Motion participants and community residents volunteer to weed, water, harvest and maintain the garden.
KIM kids visited the garden on Monday to do some weeding and scattered ivory soap chips around the garden perimeter to deter small animals from foraging in the space.
"The kids really take pride in helping out," program coordinator Nicole Martin said. "Their favorite activity is probably harvesting what is grown."
Yariah Douglas, a rising freshman at Hannibal High School, agreed.
"It takes a lot of work to maintain this garden," she said. "But when you come back and see what all has grown, that's pretty cool."
Added rising Hannibal Middle School eighth-grader Semaj Burton: "Seeing all of the progress made in the garden is neat."
The idea for the community garden formed when Ipson volunteered with Douglass Community Services' monthly food distribution in early 2017. He noticed a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in the food packages, and with Hannibal's previous community garden having languished, Ipson wanted to start a new community garden, to be cared for by volunteers, in order to provide food insecure residents with fresh produce.
He also envisions having fruit trees near Hannibal schools so that fresh fruit can be incorporated into meal programs and so children can pick fresh fruit themselves before or after school. The city already has bought 34 fruit trees, growing now at a tree farm, to eventually be planted.
"The community garden is such a wonderful program. It's nice to be receiving the fresh food again," Steffa said. "When they deliver food, there's enough to cover the small bench in the entryway and cover part of the floor."
A recent delivery was bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage.
"We had to look up recipes to see how to use it in cooking," Steffa said. "We made a dish with it and showed (Loaves and Fishes attendees) what ingredients went into making it. Many not might have the opportunity to try it elsewhere, and hopefully seeing it made up in a dish and tasting it here will encourage them to try cooking with it themselves."