PALOMINAS — Seeing the need to expand Borderlands’ Produce on Wheels With-Out Waste (POWWOW) program into a rural area, Copper Queen Community Hospital (CQCH) brought it to Palominas for its first run Saturday morning.

The Copper Queen Rural Health Clinic on Hwy. 92 in Palominas was bustling with hospital and clinic volunteers grabbing boxes from high stacks of fresh produce, including squash, melons, watermelons, peppers, mangoes, green beans and tomatoes and sorted out the unusable.

Though there was to be a charge of $12 for 70 pounds of produce, the CQCH board and staff decided to donate all cost and save people money just to get them to eat more vegetables and fruit.

Robert Seamon, CEO of CQCH, “The hospital is covering the cost. It’s our way of giving back to the community which is so important to us. Providing healthy foods support our mission.”

POWWOW gets the produce from distributors who determine what a typical household wants to buy, according to the website. What is left, usually misshapen or slightly damaged, but still perfectly edible produce, goes in the trash and ends up in landfills.

However, Borderlands found much of the food usable and collected it from the distributors for the POWWOW program. Borderlands has been able to rescue between 30 to 40 million pounds of fresh produce annually.

“Much of the rejected produce we handle simply suffers from cosmetic damages such as rain stains, or discoloration, and so, if not for Borderlands, that produce would be left to rot. Every season, this rescued produce, distributed through our program accounts for over four million healthy meal supplements,” explained the website.

Jessica Ogiba, hospital spokesperson, said they decided to bring the program to the rural area since it can be hard for some to make the trip to Sierra Vista. She said the plan was to hold two more in July and August, then start again in October. POWWOW takes a break in September.

Cynthia Aspengren and Evelyn Whitmer, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, were volunteers helping folks with the veggies.

Aspengren has been with the Sierra Vista POWWOW ever since it started. “This is a great program. And having it here in Palominas helps people who can’t travel far. It’s part of my job to get people to eat healthy foods.”

Cathy Nightingale was amazed at the offering. “This is a great thing for the community. I was lucky I caught it.”

Mary Beth Saenz, Hereford, said she would be freezing much of her box filled with veggies.

Bisbee resident Martha Rodriquez stated, “I think this is awesome. I’m ready to go cook.”

The bad produce pulled from the load also isn’t wasted. A farmer asked Ogiba if he could carry it off to feed his pigs and got the nod. He drove off a happy man.

Seamon and Ogiba estimated 80 people came for the food in the first two hours and there was still another hour to go. They planned for 100, but brought enough for 140 people.

Seamon plans to expand the program even further by starting the POWWOW program in Douglas as well.