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August 5, 2013 • 08:05:37 a.m.

Church turns unused land into crop for food pantries

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Master gardener for the Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Algonquin Joe Menotti came up with the idea this year to plant sweet corn on the undeveloped land owned by the church at the northeast corner of Long Meadow Parkway and Sleepy Hollow Road. Once harvested, the sweet corn will go to 12 food pantries in McHenry County and one in Carpentersville. (Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com)

A church in Algonquin has found its own way to feed the hungry by turning some undeveloped land into a cornfield.

Parishioners soon will harvest more than an acre's worth of corn and give it to area food pantries as a refreshing addition to the canned goods often given out.

"We know people are hungry here," said Sharon Rogers, associate pastor at Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Algonquin. "It doesn't do a whole lot of good to talk to them about God when their bellies are growling."

The church had bought about 18 acres of land at Long Meadow Parkway and Sleepy Hollow Road in Algonquin upon putting its current building up for sale in 2008. 

The plan was to build a new, bigger ministry on that land. But the church has been unable to sell its current location at 100 Hanson Road, Rogers said, and needs the money from the sale to fund a new building.

"It's a great challenge to have, not to have enough room in your church," she said.

The church also rents space at Westfield Community School, down the road from the 18 acres of undeveloped land it bought.

"In the meantime, the land was going unused," Rogers said. "We began to think outside of the box as we became aware of a growing need in the community."

A master gardener and church member, Joe Menotti already had planted a garden at the church a couple of years ago, with produce going to area food pantries. He came up with the idea to plant sweet corn on the undeveloped land.

Doing so actually works in the church's favor as far as taxes because the land can be zoned as agricultural.

Tom's Farm Market of Huntley donated the seed needed for the corn. And Dan Fruin of Huntley, whose family rents nearby acreage to farm on, agreed to plant the corn at no cost to the church.

"It was the right thing to do," Fruin said.

The entire effort came together quite easily, Rogers said.

"It's something that I don't think has been done in this area before," she said. 

"I think it's one of the challenges in the suburbs. People think everyone has pretty nice houses, ... but there are people trying to keep a roof over their heads and people have less food for their tables," she said.

And that includes parishioners at Light of Christ, she said.

The church had become inspired to help area food pantries after learning of a dramatic increase in families eligible for free and reduced school breakfasts and lunches. A Northern Illinois Food Bank video about "Hungry Kate: The Girl with a Bellyache" also resonated with them, Rogers said.

The entire effort benefits all involved, Menotti said.

"The church is going to be better off because the land is being used, and I think it's going to be something that the congregations can really appreciate and look to with pride," he said.

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