GREENFIELD — Hancock Regional Hospital is encouraging its green-thumbed employees and volunteers to contribute food to a garden of goodwill.
The new Hancock Health Sharing Garden, located in the hospital’s courtyard, offers a space for people to donate their extra produce — and anyone to take what they need as well.
The Bountiful Blessings program aims to reduce waste by allowing community members to drop off the excess items from their gardens while giving those in need another means to access healthy food. Excess produce will be donated to local food pantries for distribution to the public, officials said.
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To get employees motivated, the hospital wrapped the program into its employee wellness program; as an incentive, those who donate produce receive points that can be redeemed for hospital merchandise, like T-shirts and camp chairs.
The program started Aug. 22, and organizers have been shocked with its success, said Stephanie Swann, hospital wellness coordinator. More than 10 pounds of produce was donated in the first week, said Chris Carter, a graphic designer for the hospital who helped organize the program.
Employees have been excited to participate. When Debbie Muegge found out about the program, she asked for permission from her supervisor to run home that day and bring back produce. Others have shared their fruits and vegetables with no intention of recording their points or seeking rewards, Swann said.
From fresh herbs to melons and bananas, the bounty might not have all been produced locally, but Swann and other organizers hope the produce will be consumed by local people, whether they work or volunteer at the hospital, are patients or visitors.
The hospital’s employee wellness program, Healthy U, has tried to host farmer’s markets once a week at the facility in the past but didn’t see the success they’d hoped with it, organizers said. This program aligns with the aims of Healthy U, which include an emphasis on healthy food decisions and wellness, Carter said.
Bountiful Blessings will always be free of charge so it can be utilized by as many people as possible, Carter said. He has planned for the future of the program and intends to make it not only beneficial to the community but pretty to look at as well.
Right now, the setup consists of two folding tables and some plastic bags for people to take produce home, but that’s just the start of something bigger, he said. As the program grows, organizers hope to add a produce cart, produce baskets with “donated by” tags, environmentally-friendly take-home bags and a recipe card stand, featuring recipes from Hancock Health dietitians, Carter said.
Carter also plans to organize donation contests among departments to encourage ongoing donations and add a donation box for continuing beautification of the hospital’s courtyard garden, where the donation area is located.
The hospital’s courtyard garden provides a calm and peaceful space for everyone who visits the hospital, whether they are visitors or patients hoping to duck away for a few stress-free minutes, said Sharon Kramer, administration executive assistant. Adding the sharing garden is just one more way to make the space feel welcome.
“The courtyard is open to family and patients, and it’s a place of peace,” Kramer said. “Some people are in the hospital for a long time, and we’re happy to share this with them, too.”
It’s refreshing to see people take up the program so enthusiastically, said volunteer services program director, Dawn Earlywine.
Donors are asked to deliver their produce to Stephanie Swann, wellness coordinator, in the human resources department. For more information, contact Swann at 468-4122, or Earlywine at 468-4122.