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PORCH fights hunger with children's book

PORCH is a local nonprofit organization fighting local hunger by collecting and distributing food throughout the community. All proceeds from the book, Planting Hope, will go towards PORCH. Photo courtesy of Susie Wilde

PORCH is a local nonprofit organization fighting local hunger by collecting and distributing food throughout the community. All proceeds from the book, Planting Hope, will go towards PORCH. 

Photo courtesy of Susie Wilde

With the help of hunger relief program PORCH, local children are planting seeds of hope — one book at a time. 

Susan Romaine, co-founder of the program, said that the idea of PORCH is simple, but effective. 

“We have been doing the neighborhood food drive in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area for about six and a half years,” Romaine said. “And over the course of that time, some other communities have picked up on this very simple form of hunger relief where you leave a can out on your porch once a month and someone picks it up.”

And PORCH has been spreading this idea of hunger relief and a united community in a less conventional way: by publishing a book, "Planting Hope," with the help of children from the area. 

Romaine reached out to writer Susie Wilde and illustrator Peg Gignoux, both of whom worked with PORCH before. 

“When we approached the two of them, they wanted to get a group of kids that they felt the diversity we have here in Chapel-Hill/Carrboro, and so that is why they reached out to kids that are in an after school program at Rogers Road Community Center, and they also reached out to an 'English is a Second Language' program at Smith Middle School,” she said. “All together, it was 30 kids that worked on the book. “ 

Wilde said when Romaine approached her, she decided to work with 3rd to 8th graders for the writing portion.

“When I work with kids, I basically set it up to where we play game after game after game until we come up with a story. We started out with a game where they create a character, so they came up with as many characters as they can,” she said. “This is at Rogers Road, so the kids are young and fresh and innovative in their youth, but I also felt we needed a more mature view, so we started working with an ESL class at Smith Middle School, and so I would bounce back and forth and take all the character ideas to Smith and have them help us select a character."

Romaine said the story has connections to PORCH’s core values.

The children's book is set in a garden with bickering flowers and vegetables who learn to look past their differences and focus on the things they need to thrive — like sunlight, soil and a gardener. 

“This bickering turns into these flowers and vegetables coming together in their shared needs and forming a sense of community,” she said. “In the afterword of the book, we explain how what is happening in the garden is what is happening at PORCH. We come together because we have a shared interest in everybody in our community having enough to eat. “

Alicia Altmueller, a volunteer at PORCH who coordinated the Kickstarter fundraiser and the distribution for the book, said the book will be available at all three Weaver Street Market stores, Fifth Season Gardening and online for $20. 

The original plan was to print only 500 copies. 

“For the book itself, we needed 3,000 more dollars — we covered everything else, but we needed $3,000 to go to print the 500 copies,” she said. “So, we did the Kickstarter and the amazing thing was that in the next two days, we were able to raise the $3,000, so in the end we were able to raise $4,300. We have had such a big response, so we upped to number of books to 1,000 books.”

Romaine said there are many reasons that the book is important, one of which is the tie to current conditions in society.

“I feel like we are living in a very divisive time, and there is a certain feeling that people are feeling a little bit unsettled and uneasy, and the message of this book really resonates right now,” she said. “I say that because it is all about not focusing on our differences and instead on the things that we have in common. Trying to find those things that we need in order to thrive.”

Wilde said the book was a chance to give children in the community a chance to really experience writing and art in a way that actually had an end result in publication, and it was a way to help them have their voice heard.

“For the middle school kids, they really got to be social activists. They got to talk about, if there is one problem that plagues our country right now that we can fix, (it) is pulling communities together,” she said.

“It made sense for them to write this story and I think it is really impactful that it is coming from the children in our community.”


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