Last year, the food pantry at St. Andrew’s, Newark rose to the challenge of addressing the exploding need caused by the unemployment that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they are looking ahead.
“When the pandemic is over, it's not like these people are just going to be employed right away,” said the Rev. Sylvester Ekunwe, Vicar of St. Andrew’s. “Why not teach people how we can actually use our hands to grow some fresh vegetables?”
He continued, “Even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat, there will still be poor people in these communities who are not eating right, and as a result, impaired with the burden of health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, obesity and nutrient deficiency – the very factors that put them in a high-risk group.”
Last August, St. Andrew’s started a conversation with the 17th and 18th Streets Community Association, which prior to the pandemic had been meeting regularly in their parish hall. The Community Association was already assisting with the food pantry and other community outreach, such as backpacks for school children.
“We started thinking about having a community garden where we can mobilize the community and to start using the vacant lots in Newark, to see how they can grow some fresh vegetables which they were not getting during a food pantry distribution," said Ekunwe.
“There are so many vacant lots around us – houses that have burned down and the lots have been cleaned up, it's just grass that is growing.”
St. Andrew’s and the Community Association reached out to Councilman John Sharpe James of Newark's South Ward, who helped them identify which vacant lots owned by the city were available for community gardens. So far, three vacant lots have been identified.
The project is called “Garden of Life.”
The City of Newark will loan the lots to Garden of Life free of charge until they are needed for development. In addition, Newark’s “Love Your Block” program awarded the project Garden of Life a $4400 grant.
Community members will be invited to start planting gardens in the lots this spring.
“Even the most affluent communities have pockets of people who are food insecure,” said Ekunwe. He encourages other congregations to consider starting a community garden if empty land is available.