2016-07-15 / Front Page

Reap what you sow

City benefits from ‘Garden of Eaten’
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Gardener Kathy Jones and her 6-year-old grandson Jacob tend to produce plots located outside the rectory of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough, growing food that goes to the South Portland Food Cupboard to help city residents in need. (Courtesy photo) Gardener Kathy Jones and her 6-year-old grandson Jacob tend to produce plots located outside the rectory of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough, growing food that goes to the South Portland Food Cupboard to help city residents in need. (Courtesy photo) SCARBOROUGH — Outside the rectory of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough, hope springs eternal. There, in eight, 10-foot by 12-foot raised beds, parishioners young and old can be found on any given day diligently tending to produce gardens, growing green beans, carrots, onions, and other wholesome items. They’ll keep some of the items, but most of the harvest from the site, affectionately nicknamed the “Garden of Eaten,” will go to the South Portland Food Cupboard, which assists an average of 75 food-insecure families every week.

“I just think this is neat because it’s going to bring parishioners together, to work together, but also the fact that it is supporting the food cupboard, which I think is wonderful,” said Monsignor Michael Henchal, pastor at St. Maximilian, and at its sister sites, St. Bartholomew Parish in Cape Elizabeth, and St. John and Holy Cross Parish in South Portland.


One of the many volunteer gardeners at the ‘Garden of Eaten,’ located outside the rectory of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough, works to water plants that will eventually bear produce destined for the South Portland Food Cupboard, to help city residents in need. (Courtesy photo) One of the many volunteer gardeners at the ‘Garden of Eaten,’ located outside the rectory of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough, works to water plants that will eventually bear produce destined for the South Portland Food Cupboard, to help city residents in need. (Courtesy photo) “It’s more fun than anything, and we’ve met some really, really nice people,” said Fran Audet, one of the gardeners.

The gardens, which also include 50 2-foot by 4-foot “kiddie plots,” is a social justice initiative of the three parishes which took root thanks to a $4,000 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. On a first come, first served basis, and for a minimal fee, parishioners signed up for beds with the intention of giving a share of their crops to the food cupboard. The volunteers also work together to tend to one large bed, set aside solely to benefit those in need.

“There are so many food insecure families in the Portland area, and fresh produce is sometimes difficult for food cupboards and food pantries to stock because of the fact that it is perishable, so we wanted to be able to provide a way for them to have some sort of source of fresh produce for families,” said gardener Kathy Jones, who is sometimes helped by her 6-year-old grandson Jacob.

“Fresh produce is an important part of the food cupboard,” said Jim Welch, a parishioner who works at the cupboard. “Getting fresh vegetables into the hands of these people can only make them feel better. And it makes us feel better when we know it’s getting out there.”

According to Sybil Riemensnider, director of the food cupboard, which is located at 130 Thadeus St., about 50 percent of the food donated to the pantry goes to help South Portland families.

However, recipients of the aid also come from surrounding communities, including Portland (20 percent), Scarborough (7 percent), Westbrook (6 percent), and other communities as far away as Lewiston and Sanford, not to mention the homeless who take advantage of the opportunity to at least get fresh food in their bellies, even though they lack a roof over their heads.

The Food Cupboard does all of that on just $152,251 in donations, including $60,246 in direct aid in the form of food and produce given the operation.

Even as the need remains steady at about 8,000 individuals served per year, donations to the food cupboard last year were off nearly 8 percent, Riemensnider says, making the new crop of donations from the Scarborough gardens particularly special.

Those who will enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of the parishioners’ labor are spread fairly evenly across age ranges. Twenty-five percent of recipients last year, or 846 people, were between the ages of 31 and 45, Riemensnider says, while 24 percent (808) fell in the 46-59 demographic. But one-quarter, or 821, were children under 18 years of age, while 14 percent (493) were seniors age 60 and older.

The South Portland Food Cupboard was started in 1997 by a group of congregants from Holy Cross Church and for many years operated out of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in South Portland. In 2001, the pantry gained nonprofit status and since then has had no formal business connection with the church. Still, because the pantry did not pay rent, utilities or salaries it was able to focus solely on its mission for the first 17 years of its existence, helping to cement its status and guarantee its continued success, Riemensnider has said. The pantry moved to its current location when St. John’s closed down in 2013.

The Food Cupboard is open to the public on Thursdays from 8:30 to 11 a.m. To qualify for aid, families must have a household income that falls below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Much of the initial “seed” money at the St. Maximilian Kolbe site went toward putting in water spigots that are connected to the rectory through underground pipes, but as the initiative began to grow, so did the generosity. Members of the Knights of Columbus Calvary Council 8144 laid out the perimeter and built the individual raised beds. Phil Roberts of Broadway Gardens had 25 yards of garden soil dropped off in the parking lot by a big rig, and T.W. Enterprises of Westbrook donated wood chips.

In addition, Garbage to Garden, a Portland-based composting company, offered a discount on its product, while Hammond Lumber gave a similar cut rate on lumber. Meanwhile, carpenter John McDonough donated his time to build a utility shed and Joe Capobianco, a master gardener, lent his expertise.

“It’s a real community event,” said Paul Chamberlain, chairman of the church’s garden committee. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

Even Monsignor Henchal has offered his green thumb, developed as a child in his family’s big garden, to grow broccoli and cauliflower.

“When you’re in a big cluster of three parishes like this, you do a lot of administration, so you don’t do a lot of hands on stuff, and this is really hands on,” he said. “And during the summer, it’s easier to do it. There aren’t as many things going on.”

The participants, with varying yet growing levels of acumen in the garden, share tips, stories, and laughs as they nurture their produce and relationships with each other, all while sharing God’s mercy with the hungry, Monsignor Henchal says.

“Look at how big this area is. We can keep extending it,” said Audet. “More people will want to do it, and we’ll give more to the food cupboard.”

“Hopefully, at some point, we’ll even have some of the families who are being served with these come in and be owners,” said Jones.“I’m really proud of this,” said Henchal.

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