ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — A project growing fresh vegetables for an Athens area soup kitchen was saved from the chopping block recently thanks to a partnership between Action Ministries and Young Harris Memorial United Methodist Church.
A program of Action Ministries, Our Daily Bread is a community kitchen serving breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday to the community's homeless and working poor, as well as sack meals on weekends. In an effort to make healthier meals, Action Ministries planted a garden on its property to grow vegetables that were delivered to Our Daily Bread and integrated into the meals, Executive Director Erin Barger said.
But, work on the garden stopped when the kitchen and agency were displaced last spring after a fire took down the sanctuary building at Oconee Street United Methodist Church where the meals were served. Since the fire, Our Daily Bread and the Action Ministries offices moved into downtown Athens, but Barger said the new properties provide little green space to plant a garden.
"Our efforts to bring healthy food to people who can't afford to pay for it is part of our values and the garden is a way of equalizing access to healthy and fresh vegetables," she said. "We didn't want to lose the ability to grow vegetables if we could help it."
Fearing the garden might be discontinued, Barger mentioned the need for a community partner to save the garden project to Action Ministries board member Gary Whetstone who connected her with the incoming pastor for Young Harris, David Wofford.
"(Wofford) displayed wonderful initiative and before he moved to Athens we already had discussed the possibility of a garden," Barger said. "David showed interest on behalf of Young Harris and the congregation embraced the idea and it just took off from there. It was very fast moving."
The church applied for a $1,000 grant to prepare the garden already existing on the church's property so it could grow additional surplus for Our Daily Bread, and Action Ministries named Drew Hooks as its Hunger Relief Specialist.
A member of AmeriCorps Vista serving with Action Ministries since last August, Hooks has experience establishing community gardens through his work as an Agroforestry volunteer in West Africa with the Peace Corps. As the Hunger Relief Specialist, Hooks said his job is to spread the word about the garden via social media and other forums, decide what's planted in the garden, recruit volunteers to maintain the garden, and make sure the vegetables are transported to Our Daily Bread.
"In the fall we performed a survey among the guests at Our Daily Bread to see what vegetables they would like incorporated into the meals. Right now we're looking at planting tomatoes, onions, lettuce, carrots and things like okra, greens and squash," Hooks said.
Incorporating fresh vegetables into the meals not only helps improve the meals served to guests, it also has the potential to improve the health of people in the community, he said.
"The guests served at Our Daily Bread don't have access to fresh vegetables and often eat heavily processed foods and other foods that are not good for them because it's all they have access to or can afford," Hooks said. "That translates into diet or food related illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Introducing fresh vegetables is important for the health of our guests. They shouldn't have a meal that's detrimental to their health. They should have access to meals that both fill them up and make them healthier."
The Young Harris congregation, Action Ministries members and others gather today following the Easter service to consecrate and rename the garden located on Prince Avenue and celebrate the expansion of the garden and its partnership with Action Ministries.
Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com