Pastor Eric Schlukebir said the “very rural” congregation of Grace Valley Christian Reformed Church in German Valley, Ill., is pretty much surrounded by corn fields, so when they looked around to see how they could be helpful to the community at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, produce seemed like something they had plenty of to share. So they built a traveling vegetable trailer, carting it to different locations around Illinois’s Germany Valley, Pecatonica and other small towns in the vicinity.
Four years in, Schlukebir says that sharing free vegetables is one of the pandemic efforts the church has kept up, even expanding the number of days and locations the cart is available.
Until 2023 Schlukebir helped organize the two cart locations per week, parking the cart at times in front of a library, the parking lot of a coffee shop, the firehall, and at a church in Freeport, Ill. Church members brought their extra produce to worship on Sundays, the cart active Mondays and Saturdays.
This year church member Doug Wilken took responsibility for the cart, contacting businesses and churches and finding participants willing to offer the vegetables at different locations four days a week.
After talking with a neighbor in Byron, Ill., where he and his wife Cindy live, they arranged to have four churches participate there—all supporting vegetable distribution in one of the church parking lots on Tuesdays. “It’s been pretty well attended with people bringing (vegetables) to it and using it,” Wilken said. All four churches advertise the cart in their newsletters, he said.
“Most of the time people are just thrilled with the idea of being able to have fresh vegetables for themselves and their families,” Wilkens said, noting the thought of excess to share for free is unfamiliar to many people.
Wilkens said they’ll keep running the cart until the first frost in early October, as long as there are still vegetables to harvest. The church keeps tabs on the active locations on its Facebook page. Some of the spots, including a chiropractor’s office where the cart is parked on Mondays, also loop in their Facebook followers. Schlukebir said the cart is generally empty at the end of each run.
Wilkens owns the cart, which is a modified motorcycle trailer, and said he’ll store it on his property in the off season.
Grace Valley CRC’s other still-running pandemic-inspired ministry is a ready-to-go store of freezer meals. Schlukebir said church members noticed that people didn’t seem to have as much time as they used to for bringing meals to members who were sick or otherwise in need of care. A group started cooking once a month, storing up to 30 meals in a chest freezer and encouraging anyone in the church to share the prepared meals with whoever could use them.
“I think they have a good time cooking one night a month and then there’s something available for people at church to give to people who need it,” Schlukebir said. He said the meals have been consistently used up since they started offering them, with the group refilling the freezer every four to six weeks.