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A Garden for Caring and Sharing: Planting Seeds of Hope

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Sandy Penoucos, Pat Weatherspoon-Hall, Margaret Weddle, Ron Smith, Elizabeth Castro,

Pictured (from left) Sandy Penoucos, Pat Weatherspoon-Hall, Margaret Weddle, Ron Smith and Elizabeth Castro have put a lot of love into the garden over the years and are always happy when their hard work generates produce for the food pantry.

When life throws curveballs like overwhelming medical bills, lack of employment or just some plain bad luck, it’s a blessing that organizations like Christian Community Service Center (CCSC) are able to lend some assistance and hope. Since 1973, CCSC has been serving individuals in need while respecting religious, ethnic or cultural differences. CCSC fulfills these goals in a variety of ways, including maintaining two food pantries.

If a family can’t buy groceries, they can go to a CCSC food pantry. When someone isn’t sure how they will feed their family for a week, treasures like a jar of peanut butter, a box of cereal, a bag of dried pinto beans or a can of tuna fish are gems. And thanks to CCSC’s Community Garden, clients might also discover some sparkly diamonds in their bag in the form of bright red tomatoes, leafy green lettuce or sweet juicy grapes. 

In 2001, Christian Community Service Center partnered with Central Presbyterian Church (3788 Richmond) to create a garden to yield fresh produce for clients at CCSC’s Emergency Services. Fourteen raised container gardens were built in a corner of the church’s parking lot. Master Gardener Kenneth Dormann and some dedicated volunteers were instrumental in making the garden a success. Food pantry clients were appreciative as fresh items are often too expensive for those on a limited budget. In its first year, the CCSC Garden harvested 1,520 pounds of produce. 

You know there is going to be some serious digging when Joanne Murray gets the shovel out.

In 2010, the original garden had to close when Central Presbyterian sold its campus. But the seeds had been sown for a model of how to create a successful garden and a new garden was created at Gethsemane Church, A Ministry of St. Luke’s United Methodist (6856 Bellaire Blvd.). 
Over the years, the CCSC community garden has expanded to 27 raised (4 x 16 foot) beds, including an herb bed and an orchard with 15 fruit trees and 10 grapevines. Last year, the garden produced 7,917 pounds (almost four tons) of green beans, lettuce, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, jalapenos, bell peppers, melons, figs and more. The garden supplements two CCSC food pantries located in southwest and central Houston. 

The garden’s vegetables and fruits continue to be lovingly tended and harvested by green (and not-so-green but hard-working) thumbed volunteers who are led by co-directors Elizabeth Castro and Ron Smith

Elizabeth shared that in order to become a Harris County Master Gardener, she needed to complete 60 hours of volunteer service to graduate. She learned of the Christian Community Service Center garden directed by Kenneth Dormann and decided to volunteer there. “What started as a service project developed into 15 years of affiliation with this beautiful, dynamic and productive garden. Volunteering in the garden benefits others and nourishes me,” she said. 

Bonnie Wisecup, a longtime volunteer, digging up some onions.

Ron likes to point out that the CCSC garden is not a farm location. “This garden is in a very urban location, between a parking lot and a soccer field, and within sight of a church, fire station, retail shops, a restaurant, apartments, a school and a mosque.” Ron started volunteering when he retired in 2009. He said, “I love nurturing and growing things and I value contributing to the needs of the less fortunate. Combining these interests, and doing so in fellowship with other wonderful people who have similar values, is a most rewarding experience. I certainly would invite anyone with similar interests to join us for one, two or three mornings a week.”

Garden volunteer Margaret Weddle shared, “I have been interested in gardening since I was 5 years old, but had little time to practice it once I started working.” She learned of the garden while reading the CCSC “Connections” newsletter and how it supported their two Emergency Services food pantries with fresh produce. “I remember thinking that was exactly the type of activity I would want to be involved in once I retired and had more time. After working 35 years with a major oil company as a mechanical engineer and General Manager Integration I retired in November 2017 and started helping in the garden. I have learned so much from the other volunteers and it is gratifying to see the amount of fresh produce we have grown to supplement the food pantry offerings.”

Volunteers Mwendi Kamengele and Pelagi Bisso pick heads of lettuce that will make CCSC pantry visitors very happy.

Pat Weatherspoon-Hall, the Program Manager at CCSC Emergency Services-Southwest, said, “The families are thrilled when they realize they get to pick out fresh produce. Some of the most popular are the tomatoes, herbs, green peppers plus jalapeños and Serranos. If it’s a food they aren’t familiar with, like eggplant, we share recipes to encourage them to try it.” She continued, “It is such a joy working with the dedicated garden volunteers. They take pride in making sure that they are harvesting the best of the produce grown in the garden to provide to families in need.” 

Sow, here’s the dirt…CCSC’s Community Garden and its growing number of volunteer gardeners are planting smiles on lots of fresh Houstonian faces, one seed at a time. Can you dig it?!

Volunteers spread out to tend to some of the 27 beds at the CCSC Community Garden.

If you are interested in learning more about the garden and volunteer opportunities (or just want to see how in the world someone grows 8,000 pounds of produce in a parking lot in the middle of a big city) you’re in luck as their Open House takes place this Sat., May 4, 9-11 a.m. at Gethsemane Church, A Ministry of St. Luke’s United Methodist. Meet the garden volunteers, find out what’s growing and learn what keeps it thriving.

Editor’s Note: See more about the CCSC Garden here. If you’re interested in volunteering, reach out to Erin at [email protected] or for additional information on the CCSC Garden, reach out to [email protected].

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