McCandless resident is award finalist for growing community

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Teresa Amelio of McCandless was just being helpful when she arrived at North Hills Community Outreach to volunteer after retiring from teaching foreign languages at Pine-Richland High School.

She worked the little projects, she said, and then found herself helping at the organization's food pantries — one on Ferguson Road in Hampton Township and the other in Bellevue, her old hometown.

Whenever she visited, she remembered.

“My heart was tugging at the idea for a garden in Bellevue,” she said, “just like my parents grew.”

Today, those little tugs have produced an urban farm — on the same ground that her family tended. In two seasons, the land — about an acre — has yielded thousands of pounds of organic vegetables to feed the hungry through the outreach's program. The garden is named for her mother, Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni.

Because of Amelio's efforts and enthusiasm, she now is one of five finalists being considered for the Pittsburgh Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award sponsored by Direct Energy, an energy and energy-related service provider, and Trib Total Media.

Fay Morgan, executive director of North Hills Community Outreach, based in Hampton, nominated her. The winner will be announced at a March 30 gala.

“Terri gave both time and her treasure,” said Morgan, 60, of Shaler Township, who has led the outreach organization for 19 years. “She treasured that land. It fed her own family. She easily could have used the land for her own purpose, but she chose to use it to feed others.”

Amelio, 74, remembered doing inside chores as a young girl, while her parents and four brothers worked the soil in the empty lot across the street. The dirt grew rich and dark.

“‘Teresa, put on the pasta water,' I would hear them say,” she said.

No matter the meal, something from the family garden made it to the Sirianni table.

After she and her brothers inherited the land, Amelio persuaded them to sign over their portions of the property to North Hills Community Outreach. No one ever had given the organization property before, so it took some time for the board to determine how the land could be acquired.

In 2005, Amelio presented her idea of the garden gift. In 2011, the garden was dedicated. Another property also was purchased at a sheriff sale, so there would be a source of water for the plants. The garden rests comfortably next to Luigi Sirianni Memorial Field, a diamond for local baseball players that is named for her father.

Via ongoing fundraising, the garden has a fence, storage building, tools, a high tunnel greenhouse, trellises, fruit trees, flowers, picnic tables and plenty of space to keep the hundreds of volunteers busy through the growing season. At last count, the memorial garden had produced nearly 10,000 pounds of food – grown without pesticides — for more than 1,000 families.

There are plans for a beehive, berry patch and a children's garden. All will be under the watchful eye of Rosie Wise, garden coordinator.

“It's amazing what grows out of this spot,” Amelio said. “Volunteers have said when they touch the dirt, that it is so soft. They can put their hands in the dirt up to their elbows.”

She credits her parents for their wise ways of horticulture.

“They were immigrants,” she said. “They came and worked that land. Now, it is used for the good of the community.”

Amelio will accept her honor on her parents' behalf and with appreciation for the volunteers who keep the project going.

“I'm humbled and satisfied. I accept the honor that it's working,” she said.

“The garden came from a little idea, a little dream that was so strong for me. It honors my parents, and the garden is still in use. It makes me cry.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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