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Garden club takes part in Sisters of St. Joseph effort to help feed hungry

| Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 7:45 p.m.
Denise Dufour of Edgeworth (left) and Kate Johnston of Sewickley, members of Village Garden Club of Sewickley, harvest vegetables from the two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Denise Dufour of Edgeworth (left) and Kate Johnston of Sewickley, members of Village Garden Club of Sewickley, harvest vegetables from the two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Village Garden Club of Sewickley member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth (right) checks for vegetables to be harvested as member Kate Johnston of Sewickley looks on at the two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Village Garden Club of Sewickley member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth (right) checks for vegetables to be harvested as member Kate Johnston of Sewickley looks on at the two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Village Garden Club of Sewickley member Kate Johnston of Sewickley weighs zucchini after she and member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth (back) harvested them from the two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Village Garden Club of Sewickley member Kate Johnston of Sewickley weighs zucchini after she and member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth (back) harvested them from the two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Village Garden Club of Sewickley member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth write how much zucchini they harvested from two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. Club members visit the site twice each week. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Village Garden Club of Sewickley member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth write how much zucchini they harvested from two plots the club cares for in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden at Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden on Monday, July 13, 2015. Club members visit the site twice each week. The produce grown in the garden is distributed to two local soup kitchens and food banks.

Within a pair of 4-by-16-foot plots of land that “if you stand at one end look like a bowling alley,” some Sewickley-area gardeners are helping dozens of people.

Members of the Village Garden Club of Sewickley's Horticulture Committee have taken on a project to donate food to the people through their love of growing things and desire to help others.

They are participating in Miriam's Garden & Elizabeth's Garden, created in 2007 by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden. Through the initiative, families and organizations from the region can sign up to care for one of 28 designated plots, growing produce for themselves and donating a portion to the sisters' charities.

Crops are harvested and weighed on the Sisters' site, bagged or boxed and stored there briefly in refrigerators.

They are then distributed to two soup kitchens, The Ladle in Ambridge and Manna House of Prayer in Aliquippa; and two food banks, Center for Hope in Ambridge and the Salvation Army in Rochester.

Sr. Lyn Szymkiewicz, CSJ, of Sisters of St. Joseph, said while participants are required to donate 20 pounds of produce, “so many give so much more.” And that includes the garden club, which donates 100 percent of what it grows to the cause.

Village Garden Club member Denise Dufour of Edgeworth, chairperson of the Horticulture Committee, heard about the Baden garden project from another member, Kathleen Wycoff, who is involved with the sisters and their charity efforts. When Dufour brought up the idea of taking part, the nine committee members jumped at the chance.

“It's the perfect marriage of what our garden club is about — gardening and giving back to the community,” Dufour said, adding that she's certain participating in the gardens will become a repeat event and she hopes it will continue even when she's no longer the committee's leader.

When they first set up the gardens, six members cleared high weeds and turned the dirt. A few days later, a half-dozen more went back and prepared the soil with fertilizer and now, a couple of club members at a time visit the site and spend at least 45 minutes weeding, harvesting, weighing and boxing the goods.

“You get to play in the dirt and there's the camaraderie of being out there with your friends. One member has never ever grown a vegetable in her life and came with us to harvest zucchini. Well, she was like a little kid,” Dufour said.

Having come to the Sewickley area from New Orleans, Dufour recalled not knowing how to grow certain plants in Pennsylvania's climate and joining the garden club to tap into a “wealth of information and knowledge.”

“That's why we encourage people to join our club — to learn and have fun,” she said.

The sisters already are seeing the benefits. So far, the group has donated 20 pounds of zucchini and “our corn is looking quite good, too,” Dufour said.

They've also planted onions, yellow squash, beets, carrots and potatoes.

“In the end, all of it has a bigger meaning. In the end, we're helping those in need to get a meal,” she said.

According to Sr. Szymkiewicz, last year, about 1,100 pounds of food were grown and donated by participants. She appreciates the support of those who make other kinds of donations, too, such as money and supplies, to keep the project going.

The land, tools and low- or no-chemical fertilizers are provided to those who participate. Grants and donations have made it possible to get water to the site and install an irrigation system to make more effective use of that water.

“We try to do a little bit of upgrading each year. It's been very sustainable,” she said.

Sr. Szymkiewicz enjoys seeing the diverse group of people who come to grow food. They've had families, senior citizens, students and Cub Scout troops participate.

She said it's rewarding to watch those food gifts get from the plots to the food banks and soup kitchens. She has relished in the expressions on the faces of recipients who get fresh foods that they normally wouldn't be able to buy.

“I wish I could capture that to show every single person who grows and donates here,” she said.

“People may think they're donating a zucchini, but they're giving so much more. They're giving support to people who have nothing.”

Mya Koch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1403or mkoch@tribweb.com.

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