Fifteen years ago longtime Le Roy resident Stu Freeman noticed that leftover potatoes were sitting in fields rotting after harvest season, so he got farmers in the community to allow him to glean the vegetable to donate to local food pantries. That year he brought about 300 pounds of potatoes in and he's been doing it every year since.
Since then the "Potato Man" as he is affectionately known, has also gotten farmers to donate cabbage, carrots, onion and butternut squash. So much so that he couldn't keep up with the demand.
Two years ago he recruited members of his congregation, Bergen First Presbyterian Church, to assist. They regularly gather, sort, wash, pack and deliver fresh produce to food pantries every two weeks throughout the fall and winter. Last year they delivered more than 15,000 pounds to The Salvation Army and Community Action in Batavia, as well as Go Christian Church in Churchville.
Congregation member Kelsey Hill got involved and she is grateful for the opportunity to live out her faith in a practical way.
"I rounded up high school kids from the Sunday school class that I was co-teaching and we volunteered together," Hill said. "I was excited for the opportunity to show the students that faith isn't just something to talk about on Sunday mornings, but something to live out every day."
There are about 10 area farmers who participate. Although the farmers are committed to helping, they prefer to remain anonymous. The Batavian agreed not to print their names or the names of their farms.
Besides food, Freeman also collects coats and shoes for The Salvation Army in Batavia, Open Door Mission in Rochester and Teen Challenge in Buffalo. In the past three years, he has brought them hundreds of both, with help from his church and community.
He is an extremely humble man who is hesitant to talk about himself or his accomplishments, but having come from a family of 10 children, he knows how hard it is to make ends meet.
"I've done what the good Lord has put in my heart to do," Freeman said. "I don't want praise or publicity, I just want other people to get involved by donating food to the hungry. One church can't do it all."
Hill also encourages individuals, families and churches to give food or money to charities for families in need.
"We could also use more hands to wash and dry vegetables this Saturday and it's open to whomever would like to help," Hill said
Among those extra hands will be the Byron-Bergen Soccer team.
The next "Potato Wash" will be held 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Bergen, 38 S. Lake Ave., Bergen.