Franklin Park church garden rooted in faith to feed needy

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Parishioners of all ages at St. Brendan's Episcopal Church planted a Garden of Hope in the spring, part of the church's year-round effort to support local food banks and homeless shelters.

Behind the Franklin Park church, the garden produces crops that go to Bethlehem Haven in Uptown and the North Hills Food Bank in West View.

Nancy Davis said she and other church members worked to build interest in a program to help people who did not have access to fresh produce. She contacted Vanessa Capozzi, now ministry leader for the Garden of Hope.

“We wanted to ensure that we could provide as much food as possible, and get as many parishioners involved as we could to help our neighbors,” Davis said.

“Basically, this whole thing started when Nancy and I got together and came up with this idea,” Capozzi said. They learned the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh offers grants for garden projects.

Capozzi said parishioners loved the idea, so they decided to start the garden whether or not they got the grant. The church has about 250 members.

The church loaned $500 from its St. Brendan's CRIES Advocacy Fund to start the project, “so we started to build garden beds in March,” she said.

The church was approved for a $500 grant from the Episcopal diocese, and St. Brendan's CRIES representatives decided to turn their loan into a matching donation.

Capozzi said they harvest crops on Saturdays, and deliver produce on Tuesdays to the food bank, a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that has served about 200 families each month for 25 years. The food bank is open to those in need from 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We've delivered over 25 plastic bags filled with leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, green onions, peas, squash, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and more since May,” she said.

Davis said, “We get our parish's children involved in the harvesting process, and try to teach them that growing food can be a spiritual experience.”

St. Brendan's children have built raised beds, installed fencing, planted seeds and watered, weeded and harvested food.

“We thought that we should tie this project into our religious education somehow,” said Capozzi. “So every Saturday evening, we hold a service that educates and involves our youth.”

Jill Halapin, coordinator of children and youth ministries, said the Garden of Hope is “the catalyst for our summer program offered to the children and youth attending our Saturday Service.”

The Rev. Scott Russell, rector of St. Brendan's, said this is the first year the church harvested vegetables for those in need.

In addition to delivering crops to the food bank, the church also prepares hot meals twice a month for the Miriyam's Day program at Bethlehem Haven, he said.

Bethlehem Haven provides homeless women in Pittsburgh with emergency shelter, transitional housing, meals, medical and other services, and offers medical and mental health services to non-residents, including men. The nonprofit merged a few years ago with Miriyam´s day program, which offers women safety and hospitality from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

Davis said the garden project “opened our eyes to the needs of the women at Bethlehem Haven. This fall, we are hoping to start a program to provide bagged lunches to them.”

Chasity Capasso is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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