(June 20) Nothing makes a person’s face light up more than a gift of fresh produce, said John Payne, founder of Appalachian Region Missions Inc., Cumberland, Ky.

“Elderly people know more about produce than young people because they grew up mostly on produce,” Payne said. “You watch them shuck the corn and pinch the corn and say, ‘That’s going to be so good.’”

Seeing that joy, Payne said, motivated the 69-year-old to start Appalachian Region Missions in 1996. The program donates boxes of food to pre-screened elderly people on fixed incomes and to children in the Appalachian region.

Appalachian Region Missions also donates food to people affected by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.

In the summertime, fresh produce accounts for about 40% of the program’s food donations, Payne said. Because of its nutritional value, Payne said he tries to incorporate as much produce as possible into the program. Appalachian Region Missions tracks growing seasons and sets up standing orders with grower-shippers.

Charities pay for a large percentage of the organization’s transportation costs. Churches and about 100 volunteers also help with the program by packing and delivering food boxes to people’s homes.

Wallace Taylor, Estill County judge executive in Ravenna, Ky., adopted the volunteer program into his county system about three years ago. Taylor said he has been moved by the gratitude that food recipients have shown and the difference it has made in their lives.

Grower-shippers from the Carolinas, Mississippi and Louisiana have donated sweet potatoes to the program. Companies from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado and Maine have sent potatoes and carrots.

Payne said his 45 years of experience in the transportation industry help him coordinate food deliveries. Payne works part-time for his company, Golden Distribution Systems Inc., Memphis, Tenn. Golden Distribution Systems transports dry and refrigerated freight.

“We’re like a clearinghouse of who’s got what and who needs it and the most economical way to get it to them,” Payne said of his work at Appalachian Region Missions.

When a cucumber grower-shipper had three or four leftover loads of cucumbers and no funds to pay for transportation, Payne found a charity to donate funds. Then, he set up transportation.

Another year, Payne said he transported 70 truckloads of Arizona-grown tomatoes across the country. None of the tomatoes, Payne said, went to waste.