SETTING AND REACHING DREAM GOALS WITH THE SALVATION ARMY, FRESHLY GROWN
Cami Horn, Social Services Director for Salvation
Army of Southern Illinois
Volunteer Donation Garden in Marion, Illinois
Cami Horn and Toni Kay Wright, Donation Garden Builders
The fresh smell of a garden brimming with growing vegetables over the dew of a late spring rain is a rare joy unto itself.
As part of a new Salvation Army initiative in Marion, Ill., a volunteer donation garden is expected to churn out between 500 and 800 pounds of vegetables in its inaugural season, which started April 30 and will continue through the long months of summer.
Beans, cucumbers, squash, beets, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, green peppers, pecans, potatoes, herbs and onions are all grown in a handmade donation garden meant to create food for donation to local food pantries. Fruit trees are on the way. With prices for fresh produce high, providing freshly made vegetables and fruits to feed people can be elusive and yet a necessary nutritional contrast to pre-packaged foods.
With resources scarce for vital community support in southern Illinois, local Salvation Army workers created a “dream board” for things they’d like to see to help make the most of their available tools. On it was a local garden that sustained itself during spring, summer and fall to help grow food for hungry people in need.
That goal became a reality “really quickly” when different civic organizations got involved this year and late last year, said one architect of the dream board, Cami Horn, social services director for Salvation Army of Southern Illinois.
Located in the back of Marion’s First Presbyterian Church on the cusp of three acres of available green land for future food growing, the Cultivating Care Donation Garden hums with potential.
The garden is a partnership with the University of Illinois Extension and The Salvation Army, with help from young 4H-ers, Heartland Regional, the city of Marion, Faith and Places, and Cornerstone Church, among others. Volunteers are welcome to help tend the garden by removing weeds, transporting materials, harvesting, and watering plants, when rain hasn’t already done the job.
“It is truly the donation garden,” Horn said. “The idea behind it is if others want space, then it would turn into community garden areas. But this is the donation garden of our pantry.”
Of the process, Horn broke it down into a series of manageable steps before the food is weighed, washed and ready to eat at the pantries.
“Cornerstone Church has a Kingdom Builders Ministry, and they did all of the beds for us,” Horn said. “They had a crew that came. We provided all the cardboard, which is underneath the whole thing. They did the build. The city got the mulch donated. Then, we were able to purchase the gravel and soil. The city donated a crew with Bobcats.”
Also on the dream board are aspirations for updated transportation, which is needed to travel the wide area of need that is southern Illinois.
“We have a lot of things on our dream board,” Horn said. “I’ve been all over the place in the minivan. But to be able to go mobile, that is on the dream board.”
With plenty of room to grow, plans for a water drainage system to be installed, and a sprawling need for more fresh food, the Marion garden looks to stick around long enough to have numerous annual harvests.
“I push all kinds of boundaries because I think we should be the easiest place that people go to get help,” Horn said. “I definitely want everybody to feel better when they leave from when they walk in the front door.”