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A helpful idea that just keeps growing

Food bank users at Woolwich Community Services have enjoyed a bounty of fresh produce this summer thanks to a community garden initiative at the St. Jacobs Home Hardware distribution office.

WCS’ director of community support, Kelly Christie, says the donations have been plentiful. Home Hardware employees have been dropping off the produce weekly for more than a month.

“At the beginning it was a very nice surprise. They did tell us they were planting it. I didn’t realize how large it was going to be and how much we were going to receive. It quickly came together. They pick on the Sunday and bring stuff here on the Monday, so it’s nice and fresh. And we have the whole week to give it out to participants,” Christie said.

She says they usually only buy carrots for fresh vegetables because they can store them for a while. They’ve received more than 1,400 pounds of fresh produce thus far, which includes potatoes, carrots, onions, beans, peppers, beets, zucchini, peas, cucumber, corn and tomatoes.

“This is above and beyond, first of all the freshness of it and then the variety. Some people are taking the beets and pickling it and jarring it and that kind of thing. People are just thrilled to get fresh vegetables in season,” Christie said.

She’s hoping the group of generous gardeners will continue to support the food bank this way every year. The community garden sits on an acre of land. Half of it is for the food bank and the other half is for the gardeners.

Julia Swijters, service coordinator at Home Hardware’s St. Jacobs distribution centre, had the idea for the garden. A simple note in the company’s suggestion box turned into a project involving employees from all different departments.

She says human resources manager Stew Gingrich was happy to support the healthy living project. About 21 employees expressed interest in helping tend the garden after she put out a call for volunteers in the company newsletter.

“Within our company I probably touched on 50 different people in order to gather resources. I’ve actually gone out to our vendors pool through the help of our buyers department. We had about six different vendors donate seeds, wheelbarrows, rototillers, basically anything I asked for everyone was really willing to give,” Swijters said.

It seems like people were looking for a way to give back and the idea just happened to hit the nail on the head, she noted.

The garden is located across the street from the distribution centre which is earmarked for expansion, but isn’t being used yet.

They put their first plants in the ground at the beginning of June and they’re still harvesting. They’ll soon have pumpkins ready to pick.

A highlight for her has been seeing the smiles and shock when they gather all the produce each week.

“There’s almost a wonderment every time people see the big pile of food that goes over there every Monday morning. This is something we did as a group, it was not just one person. It’s more of what you can accomplish when you actually put forth the effort is amazing,” Swijters said.

They intend to continue the garden next year too once they’re done harvesting this season. They’re going to better coordinate with WCS to see what produce was most enjoyed, what could be scaled back on and where else could use some fresh vegetables.

“It’s wonderful, we have directors and managers who’ve been at Home Hardware for 40-plus years working side by side in the garden with the children of a warehouse employee or the grandchildren of a warehouse employee. It just brings everybody together. It’s been an amazing boost for everybody,” Swijters said.

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