Contest asks for produce for food banks

People donate fresh food to Horizen Hydroponics' annual contest. (Courtesy photos - Sept. 7, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A local business is doing its part to fight hunger in West Michigan by holding an annual contest that encourages growers to donate fresh produce to food banks.

The contest is put on by Horizen Hydroponics, a Grand Rapids indoor gardening store that has been around since 1999. For the past five years, the contest has been held before the store’s Grand Harvest Festival in the fall.

“Whoever donates the most will win the package that we put together for them, which is $500 worth of gardening gear that they can use all year round. All of the produce is going to Feeding America, which is the primary beneficiary of this contest,” said John Ujlaky, one of the owners of Horizen Hydroponics.

A recent study conducted by Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, shows hunger is a growing problem in West Michigan and the United States. According to the study, more than 46 million people around the country rely on food assistance from Feeding America.

“Food banks have been tapped and called upon very much this year and we’re doing as much as we can to help fill those food banks and provide the most nutritious food that we can for everybody,” said Ujlaky.

Horizen Hydroponics is a family-owned business. Owners John and Bridgette Ujlaky have involved their three children in the growing process.

“Being able to donate them makes me feel happy so then we can make other people feel healthy and happy,” Charisse, the Ujlakys’ 8-year-old daughter, said.

The owners told 24 Hour News 8 that their three children helped inspire them to begin the contest five years ago.

“I can’t imagine going to the refrigerator and not having food for my children,” Bridgette Ujlaky said. “Being able to grow my own food and feed my children makes me want to help other people as well.”

The contest began the second week of August. So far, 300 pounds of produce have been donated to Feeding America. The owners would like to match last year’s contribution of 1,400 pounds.

“Fresh produce has the most nutrition compared to any other type of food that we have and getting that into everyone’s hands just benefits the community overall,” said John Ujlaky.

More information on the contest, which runs through Sept. 20, and how to donate can be found on the Horizen Hydroponics website.

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