Written by Daniel Hazard
Live your faith + Love your community = Feed the hungry on Long Island.
It's an elementary equation that the members of Wantagh Memorial United Church of Christ are taking to heart. The Long Island, N.Y., church has enthusiastically embraced the "Faith,In" project, planting a "Giving Garden" that, by midsummer, has already provided 500 portions of organic vegetables to the local food pantry.
"What attracted our congregation to the 'Faith, In' project was that it is a clear statement about how the church is best understood in the twenty-first century," said, the Rev. Ron Garner, pastor. "We want to be a vital part of our community and realize that often the church is viewed as something wholly separate. We don't just have faith in Wantagh Memorial UCC, we have faith in our community. In fact, our faith is best lived out beyond our walls. The Giving Garden is a visible sign of that commitment."
It's also a sign of the commitment UCC churches are making to the "Faith,in" project. As of Aug. 7, there are 98 communities registered at faithinproject.com. One doesn't have to register to participate.
The "Giving Garden" project began in the spring of 2012 when the congregation tilled three garden plots on church grounds. The seed of the idea was first planted last fall, after the pastor's Mission:1 walk of 111 miles across Long Island made him aware of an Episcopal church with an organic garden. Wantaugh Memorial, which already has a long history of supporting the Freeport Emergency Food Pantry with financial contributions and non-perishable food items, decided a garden would be a natural way to grow that relationship.
All of the organically grown vegetables -- onions, tomatoes, radishes, zucchini, bush beans, pole beans, kale, lettuce and turnips -- raised in the plots are given to the pantry so it can provide fresh produce to clients. Volunteers from within the congregation and the community are maintaining the garden.
"Initially, the congregation saw it as a way to be supportive of the mission of the Long Island Council of Churches, which established the pantry," Garner said. "But in recent times, the support of the pantry has become more critical. The economic collapse has led to more and more people relying on the pantry. Some are embarrassed by the situation, now being clients of a charity that they may well have supported in the past. By adding organic vegetables to our continued support with non-perishable items, we hope that clients will have a more typical 'shopping' experience."
This visible way of living their faith has proved so successful that plans to double the size of the garden for 2013 are already in the works. The congregation also is encouraging other community members to become "satellite gardeners" by placing small plots on their own property. The "Giving Garden" also is exploring ways to work cooperatively with local farmers markets –– so those organizations can provide excess vegetables to the Freeport Emergency Food Pantry. One idea, said Garner, is perhaps allowing patrons to purchase extra vegetables, and designate them as donations to the hungry.
Join or learn more about the "Faith,In" project.
Get a "Faith,In" project guide with ideas your community can put into practice.