Church of the Nativity started a community garden in 2013 for several reasons. First, we wanted a teaching garden for our youth so that they could learn an important skill, understand from where their food came, develop healthy eating habits, and connect with God’s good creation. Second, as people of faith, we felt called to address a great injustice and something that is just plain wrong – that in a land of plenty we have 50 million people who are food insecure.
Our commitment to hunger relief at Nativity first took root in 1989, when church member Jill Staton Bullard and a friend launched a food rescue operation later called the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS). Their goal was to keep perfectly good food out of the landfill by picking it up from restaurants, grocery stores, and farmer’s markets and taking it directly to organizations that feed the hungry. Thus, by donating our produce from the garden to IFFS, Nativity had a well-established and direct way to provide fresh, nutritious, organically grown food to those in need.
Initially, we built four raised beds and subsequently expanded the garden to sixteen. During our first year, our fresh produce was picked up by IFFS and delivered to a senior center in our neighborhood. Now, Nativity gardeners deliver it directly. On the same day, an IFFS truck drops off other mainly non-perishable food items. The center consists of senior adults, many of whom rely on Social Security and also face health concerns. Without the food deliveries, it would be difficult for them to have access to the food they need. They would be eating more processed, less nutritious food. The delivery process is managed by one of the center residents, Florence. After the food is delivered, 3 residents at a time get to “shop” for free food.
Florence says the deliveries do more than just provide nutritious food – they inspire a sense of community. When a new resident moves in, he or she is welcomed with a reusable grocery bag and an invitation to shop. On delivery days the residents gather early in the multipurpose room and chat about food and recipes. The fresh ingredients inspire residents to cook and share meals. During illnesses or after hospital visits, residents check on one another, and offer assistance including home cooked meals. Florence says, “it really knits this little community together.”
Our church’s participation in this program has also been transformative for us. With the gardeners delivering the food they are getting to know personally those who are benefiting from our outreach, and they more fully understand the impact of our ministry. The last couple of years two Nativity teenagers made most of the deliveries. Their family also manages one of the raised beds and helped with the installation of the garden. Through the Nativity Community Garden our members feel we are truly growing in God’s creation, and we are bringing hope and resilience to some needy citizens in our community. We are doing our part to Become the Beloved Community.