Food Bank's volunteers keep hungry mouths fed

Published on Thursday, 19 December 2013 22:46 - Written by By Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

Maj. Deal Folmar gets to do what he enjoys - spending time outside and working on a tractor - all while impacting the lives of inmates and helping those who are hungry.

The 60-year–old, who is with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, has been involved with the East Texas Food Bank’s garden project for four years.

Under the project, inmates work in a 4-acre garden, located south of Flint. Produce from the garden, such as tomatoes, okra, corn, peas, potatoes and squash, is then harvested and passed on to the food bank.

Since 2010, more than 200,000 pounds of food has come from the garden, according to the food bank. Now, the food bank is working to expand the garden project.

Folmar said an additional 5 acres will be available thanks to Flint Baptist Church, which donated use of land. He anticipates that it will be ready in the spring.

Folmar, who does inmate scheduling, works in the garden and ensures that plants are purchased and delivered, said he believes volunteers are needed “in every aspect of life,” and he chooses to be involved with the food bank.

He said there was a need at the food bank for fresh vegetables and produce, and he saw an opportunity to use what he learned growing up on a farm.

“Being from the farming background in my childhood, I guess it was exciting to get to put some of my talent to work in helping the community,” he said.

“It’s not only a sense of accomplishment, but it gives you a sense of helping people, and … one of my things is giving back to the community. I know that any vegetable that goes to the food bank is going to help feed a hungry family or a hungry person. It’s just exciting to be a part of it,” Folmar added.

Smith County Sheriff’s Office spokesman John Moore said many inmates who go out to the garden haven’t had a job or don’t have a sense of responsibility or skill sets, for whatever reason, and Folmar is able to give them his knowledge and skills.

“It’s not just people that are benefiting directly from the food that’s grown, but you’ve got a whole set of people that go out here, and they’re learning how to do something probably for the first time - realizing that they can positively impact somebody else instead of negatively impacting somebody else - and that directly goes back to the major and what he’s teaching them,” Moore said.

But Folmar is not the only East Texas Food Bank volunteer. According to the food bank, more than 7,800 people volunteer each year.

East Texas Food Bank Executive Director Dennis Cullinane said volunteers are critical to the organization. He said he believes volunteering means something different to everyone, whether they are doing it for community service, have the time to devote to helping hungry East Texans or come in with their family.