URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Community leaders with Cunningham Township have started a ‘Solidarity Garden’ program to assist those suffering from food insecurity.

“Our goal is to empower people in the community to grow food for themselves and their neighbors, so we can avoid food insecurity this fall,” said Danielle Chynoweth, Cunningham Township Supervisor.

Solidarity Gardens CU has partnered with park districts for both Urbana and Champaign, local school districts, the University of Illinois Extension, Sola Gratia Farm, the Channing-Murray Foundation, and a number of community gardens. The initiative is modeled after World War II ‘Victory Gardens.’

“Before COVID,” she said, “at Township we support the homeless and near-homeless, and they came in almost every month at the end of the month saying that they were out of food because food stamps provides $6.40 per day to live on. With COVID, that problem has exploded, and it’s very important that we be looking out for each other in this time of need.”

Chynoweth said they’re asking people all over the community to produce food. She added they can be mailed seeds, they can drop off seedlings for them, or people can pick them up at drop-off locations.

“We have gardens at both townships, we have community gardens including Lierman and east-Urbana, and the Randolph Street Community Garden,” she said. “We’re also asking people to go ahead and plow up their yards and grow gardens in their own private property.”

Solidarity Gardens CU launched Wednesday with the delivery of seedlings and seeds to about two-dozen low-income families, Chynoweth said, through their ‘Bucket Brigade’ with the Channing-Murray Foundation.

“In the next week, we’re going to distribute hundreds of seedlings to immigrant families in mobile home parks throughout Urbana thanks to help from the Urbana School District,” she said. “We will continue to go throughout the growing season, and we encourage people to grow and share.

“We have a distribution mechanism where you can contact us and we will come to pick up the extra food, prepare it and give it to families in need.”

The initiative will also provide tools, soil, containers, miscellaneous supplies, gardening expertise, and educational resources to anyone interested in the Champaign-Urbana area. They plan to collect, process, and redistribute donated produce to community members facing economic and food access challenges.

Solidarity Gardens CU is also seeking funding to offset costs; they are accepting online donations.

“All people have to do to participate in Solidarity Gardens is to agree to grow food to support their neighbors in need, and to take a picture of it and use the hashtag #SolidarityGardensCU. If they need support, they can order tools, seeds, and seedlings through our website at solidarity-gardens-cu.org