October 17, 2008

Garden of eating: Immaculate Heart of Mary ministry provides food for the needy

Noëlle Gal, 8, the granddaughter of Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Hugh Baker, harvests broccoli in the Community Garden at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis on Oct. 4. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Noëlle Gal, 8, the granddaughter of Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Hugh Baker, harvests broccoli in the Community Garden at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis on Oct. 4. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

(Editor’s note: “Spreading Hope In Neighborhoods Everywhere” (SHINE) is a social ministry renewal that will be launched on Oct. 1, 2009, by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The following is the first in a series that will highlight how the ministry of charity is taking place in parishes, schools, agencies and other institutions throughout the archdiocese. Catholic Charities is leading the planning. To learn more about SHINE and how you and your parish can become involved, log on to www.CatholicCharitiesIndy.org.)

By Mike Krokos

Walk in the garden, and you see collard greens, broccoli and eggplant.

There are a variety of peppers coming to life, too.

Around the corner, tomatoes growing in a separate area wait to be picked.

The volunteers, both young and old, smile and work quickly on this crisp fall morning as they use their gardening tools to harvest the produce that soon will be transported to Anna’s House in Indianapolis.

Did we mention that all of this is being done under the watchful eye of the Blessed Mother?

Welcome to the Community Garden at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis.

Located in front of the Shrine of Mary on the parish grounds, parishioners have spent the better part of the last three summers and falls planting then harvesting the garden to generate quality produce for those in need.

“We use a lot of plants that can produce a lot of food in a small space,” explained Steve Rose, who coordinates the volunteer efforts for the garden project.

On this day, Rose and his two sons, Isaac, 8, and Nate, 7, are among a group of nine people harvesting the garden.

“It feels good to help other people,” Isaac says in between gathering broccoli and collard greens.

Shine logoTending the garden has become a family activity for many of the 40 to 50 volunteers who take turns each Saturday from June through early November harvesting the produce. Parishioners water the plants throughout the week, too.

Reaching out in a new way to God’s family was one of the reasons that parishioners decided to begin this ministry.

“The idea came out of discussions with [former pastor] Father Jeff [Godecker] to see how we could further help providing food [to others],” Rose said.

During the first two summers that the garden was planted and harvested, parishioners worked hand in hand with refugee families from Liberia, Somalia, Burma and other faraway lands.

Parishioners would ask the refugee families what they would like to have planted, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish family followed through by planting the crops that would best suit the needs of the refugee families, Rose said.

Parishioners and the refugee families would work side-by-side tending the garden, and the refugees would take the produce home with them, he added.

Living the Gospel mandate of helping brothers and sisters in need has had a powerful effect on the parish community, especially children, Rose noted.

“We can kind of see the outcome of what we’re doing,” Rose said, “and it was pretty impactful to see the refugee families.”

Parishioner Christi Malasto, the mother of three children, ages 7, 4 and 2, agreed.

“It teaches a good lesson,” she said. “It shows our children there are needy out there, and [that] they are blessed.”

Though the outreach to refugee families came to an end this summer, parishioners now donate the produce to Anna’s House, a clinic and learning center near downtown Indianapolis that provides food, dental care, medical help and education services for people in need.

Rita Bowers, a parishioner who volunteers in the garden with her three daughters, ages 9, 7 and 4, said she is sharing an important life lesson with them.

“This is something we can do with our kids,” Bowers added as she worked with her 7-year-old daughter, Kimberly.

As Christians, we are stewards of the Earth, and something that has been lost on society in recent years is being in commune with the Earth, noted parishioner Hugh Baker, who has volunteered for the garden ministry all three years.

“There is a reason why [the Book of] Genesis starts out in a garden,” said Baker, who volunteered on this day with his 8-year-old granddaughter, Noëlle Gal. “Because we are of the Earth.”

He added that Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Community Garden is a way for people to touch the less fortunate in a spirit of charity.

“It’s a true act of love, of giving,” Baker said. †

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