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Wednesday, July 25, 2007 12:29 pm

Hope’s garden

Church joins local effort to grow produce for the needy

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Volunteers help care for the new garden at Hope Presbyterian Church, 2211 W. Wabash Ave.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER AVERY
Untitled Document Leafy bean vines snake through an arched trellis and the plants below bear tomatoes on their way to maturity in the little patch of green on the south side of Hope Presbyterian Church.
This special garden — also boasting cucumbers, potatoes, and green peppers — fulfills the congregation’s most recent call to serve. As a new partner in the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, the church will harvest the fresh produce and pass it along to those in need.
“As a church, sometimes we have money problems,” congregation member Sue Hack says, “but we’re fortunate to have a lot of land with a lot of grass and a lot of sun. It was the perfect spot for a garden.”
Plant a Row for the Hungry — a national hunger-relief project — was introduced in Sangamon and surrounding counties by the University of Illinois Extension in 2000. Hack, a master gardener with the Sangamon-Menard Unit, encouraged her congregation this spring to sign on and take food-donation efforts a step further.
Hope’s members tilled and fenced a 15-by-25-foot garden and began planting in May. When the produce ripens, it will join nonperishables and monetary donations at the Kumler Methodist Church food pantry. “We have supported the Kumler food pantry for years and years,” says the Rev. Debra Avery, the church’s pastor, “so we took some of our land and put it to good use to feed people who are hungry. It seemed like a natural thing for us to do.”
Even though the project requires time and commitment, Avery says, her congregation has shown a strong interest. So far the church has harvested 39 pounds of cucumbers, and the congregants will soon move on to picking green beans. “Our church is the place where anything can happen,” she says. “If someone has an idea to benefit the community, we usually find a way to make it happen.”
Since its inception in central Illinois, Plant a Row for the Hungry has collected more than 192,455 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for food banks and pantries in 21 counties. In addition to partnerships with home growers and now Hope Presbyterian, Plant a Row for the Hungry has formed relationships with other community organizations and businesses. Each week, commercial growers at the Springfield Old Capitol Farmers’ Market donate their unsold produce to the program, and employees at AIG Corp. provide mature fruits and vegetables from previously supplied seeds and plants. Ann Pictor, co-chair of Plant a Row for the Hungry, says the program is catching on in Springfield, but she feels that more can be done if people understand the problem and its easy solution. “I ask myself, ‘What’s the face of the hungry?’” Pictor says. “I think of the homeless, yes, but the hungry predominantly are the elderly and kids. When you think that there is a surplus and it’s rotting in people’s gardens — that’s inexcusable.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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