TYLER — Royalty came to the East Texas Food Bank on Tuesday to celebrate the watermelon industry and the generosity of an area farm that donated fresh produce to help those in need.
Wiggins Farms, based in Center, donated about 100 watermelons to the food bank to raise awareness about September being Hunger Action Month and in honor of National Watermelon Queen Paige Huntington of Tyler.
Huntington was crowned in February in Orlando, Florida. As queen, she represents the watermelon industry on a national level.
“This is the biggest honor that I’ve ever had,” she said.
Wiggins Farms began in 1999 and has grown to include watermelon fields in Rio Grande Valley, Dilley and Center. The farms distribute 40 million pounds of watermelons to grocery stores around the United States and Canada. Kerry Wiggins runs the farm with her husband, Darren, their two sons, Jesse and Jared, and her daughter-in-law, Ashlyn.
Ashlyn Wiggins, marketing director for Wiggins Farms, said the donation was made to the food bank to celebrate the national watermelon queen being from Tyler as well as to mark Hunger Action Month.
“We feel very blessed to give back during this pandemic, and kind of what it stands for is to give when we can,” Wiggins said. “We just want people to be aware of Hunger Action Month and do what you can. If you feel led to give, give.”
East Texas Food Bank CEO Dennis Cullinane said it’s an honor to welcome the national watermelon queen and to celebrate one of the most popular produce items the food bank receives.
“I think it’s maybe in the top three with cabbage and onions, and it’s really important because it’s a delicious commodity. Everybody loves watermelons,” he said. “We’re excited about this donation. They really fly out of our agencies really quickly. Everyone loves them, especially in the summertime and moving into the fall. So we couldn’t be more grateful.”
Cullinane said donations such as the watermelons from Wiggins Farms are needed now more than ever.
“We’ve been really fortunate because we’ve gotten a lot of donations, and we’ve really been learning about how generous this community is, particularly with the donation of fresh produce like this,” he said. “We’re here for the long run. This is not going to be a sprint. It’s a marathon. We need to continue to get quality donations like this to help sustain the families here in East Texas.”
Huntington, a Jefferson native, said she was born into the agriculture industry with her father being a second-generation rancher.
“When the opportunity arose for me to run for the Texas Watermelon Queen position, I jumped on it because I thought that was a really cool opportunity for me to learn just a little bit more about the produce side of the agriculture industry,” she said. “It’s been an amazing journey. I’m so excited to help put East Texas on the map and our wonderful growers that live here.”
As National Watermelon Queen, Huntington would normally tour the country spreading awareness about the watermelon industry. Due to COVID-19, several events are being held virtually.
In addition to her queen duties, Huntington is a student at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler pursuing a master’s degree in public health.
The East Texas Food Bank serves about 250,000 people in Gregg and 25 other area counties.