MCTC inmates helping to provide fresh vegetables for local food pantries
08/03/2012
Herald-Mail.com

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Local food pantries have been receiving fresh vegetables from inmates at the Maryland Correctional Training Center.

Some of MCTC’s pre-release center and minimum-security inmates have been growing and picking vegetables on a farm for the facilities in the state prison complex south of Hagerstown, with some of them going to the Washington County Hunger Group. The group then distributes them to local food pantries, said Pam Christoffel, a member of the group.

On Friday, members of some of the food pantries and of the hunger group showed up at MCTC to see the garden.

“One of the first things we did was tour all the 21 pantries in the county,” Christoffel said. “The thing they needed the most was fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Christoffel added that the group has been showing up once a week to receive the produce, and after distributing the food to some of the local pantries, it also gave some of it to the Maryland Food Bank-Western Branch.

“One of our goals was to increase the supplies of fruits and vegetables,” she said. “This is one of the more generous programs.”

This is the first season that some of the vegetables have been going to local food pantries, and the eighth year that inmates have been growing the vegetables for the facilities at the complex, said Denise Gelsinger, facility administrator of MCTC’s pre-release unit.

“The inmates know they can do something,” Gelsinger said. “They get to know who the food is going to, and it adds that human element and is a sense of accomplishment.”

The seeds are donated from the University of Maryland Washington County extension, and a regular crew of four inmates work in the garden every day, Gelsinger said. The facility’s only cost is fertilizer, which is about $200.

Inmate Jason Cook, 30, of Pasadena, Md., has been incarcerated for five years and said he decided to work on the farm to keep his mind off of being incarcerated.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and it has given me peace of mind,” he said. “It feels good to be able to give back and help the community, considering I’ve done things against the community I definitely shouldn’t have done.”

John Klepetka, 34, of Baltimore, has been incarcerated for 10 years and said he began working on the farm in May.

“It’s been self-gratifying,” he said. “It’s definitely felt good, and being able to show my family with newspapers, I know they’ll be proud of me.”

Jonathan Cochran, 22, also of Baltimore, has been incarcerated for four years and said he has also been working on the farm since May.

“I just like the outside weather and being outside the fence away from prison life,” he said. “Doing this builds character and makes you feel good about yourself.”

In the past two weeks, more than 1,200 pounds of produce have been donated to local food pantries from the inmates, according to an emailed release from Mark A. Vernarelli, director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

There is no set amount of produce that is distributed to the local food pantries because it depends on how much the facilities themselves need, Gelsinger said.