Meet Your Neighbors: Jill Atkins And Mark McGarity, Managing An Independent Food Bank And Giving Back To The Community

By Carol McCracken

Every Sunday morning for the last five years or so, this married couple has been doing their share to alleviate the increasing number of people who are finding it harder and harder to fill their refrigerators with fresh produce and cupboards with fresh bread, because of the poor economy.

The twosome get in their truck early in the morning and drive to a major, local grocery store. There they fill up cardboard boxes with overstocked produce, fruits and bread well before it perishes. The first stop on their route is the West Falmouth Baptist Church. There they wait for consumers to pick what they will need for the upcoming week. A rule of thumb is: “Take What You Need” – there is no restriction. With whatever is left over, the couple moves on to Haven House, Friendship House and local shelters with their food. “People come quite humble. They seem to take only what they really need either for themselves or for a friend,” said the easy going McGarity who is originally from Georgia. He is leaning against a fence at the North Street Community Garden where his attractive wife is asking for advice about the soil mix for their plot.

Six days a week the easy-going and genial Mark works long days at the reknown Broadway Gardens in South Portland. Last year he began to notice an increase in the number of people starting up their own vegetable gardens. This year he has already noticed another big jump in first-time gardners. “People are looking for lots of advice about starting vegetable gardens,” Mark says. Next month they’ll begin asking when they can plant vegetables and tomatoes. One rule of thumb that many people adhere to is not to plant tomato plants until Father’s Day – that’s mid-June, he says. Fortunately, Mark is one of a handful of year-round employees at the super-size nursery which is locally owned.

Meanwhile, Jill is a landscape painter with her own studio on the Hill. As the weather continues to improve, Jill will be opening up her studio to neighbors who want to stop in for a cup of java and a look-around. A very pleasant prospect indeed!