During a typical summer, camp director Carly Robinson would be welcoming hundreds of children from metro Atlanta to a 160-acre facility in North Georgia. The campers would go tubing on a river that runs through the property. They would learn to build fires and tie knots, learn about trees and insects, amphibians and birds. They would live in cabins, pick vegetables and fruits from a large garden and learn how to make tasty dishes using the garden produce.
This summer, the camp is shuttered because of the pandemic. The garden Robinson had planted in early spring was doing well, but with no one to pull weeds or pick vegetables, it was becoming overgrown. The zucchini were as big as missiles, some of the tomatoes were melting on the vine. “I was thinking, well, there’s next year,” Robinson said.
Until Kelli Bivins visited the camp in early June. She saw the garden and immediately thought she knew people who could use the vegetables. An English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher who works for the Clarke County School District, Bivins decided to pick and distribute the food in Athens neighborhoods, including East Athens, Pinewoods and Bethel Midtown Village, where many of her students and their families live.
“I’m not teaching, but I want to be doing service in the summer, and this is what I can do safely,” Bivins said. “I just wish my students could be helping me.”
Once or twice a week, she makes a 30-mile trip to the camp and spends an hour or so finding jalapeno, banana and bell peppers, along with yellow squash, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, tomatillos, corn and purslane, which covers big patches of the garden plot. Latinx people include purslane as an ingredient in various sauces, Bivins has learned, and people who know its usefulness are thrilled to get it. After picking vegetables, Bivins lays them on a table and then places them in coolers in her trunk before heading another 30 miles back to Athens.
“I go to trailer parks that most people don’t even know exist,” Bivins said. “I open my trunk and offer people vegetables, and they’re so grateful. I want them to take what they need.”
If there are tomatillos in the harvest, she may visit Latinx families, while a bumper crop of green beans takes her to African-American families. On one of her forays into hidden trailer parks, she spotted some elderly folks sitting under shade trees in the yard. They happily accepted some vegetables, and now she visits them regularly. Another development is that Bivins’ neighbors have started giving her vegetables from their backyard gardens for her to distribute, as well as clothes and art supplies.
Sharing with others “fulfills me,” Bivins says. “I’ve always felt that sharing food is a good way of healing a community. We have a lot hurting us now, this simple act feels right.”
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