WIND HAM (9/29/2016) -- The CT Food Bank has a map that provides statistics for each of the 169 towns in the state. Windham (population 25,271) is one of the 'hotspots' for eastern CT with a poverty rate of 25.2% and food insecurity rate of 17.5%. But a variety of non-profit groups in that area have united around the common goal of fighting hunger.
One creative effort is the result of collaboration between Grow Windham, Windham Area Interfaith Ministries (WAIM), and the Covenant Soup Kitchen. The Town of Windham has provided space at Lauter Park for a large community garden. One section has 20' x 20' plots that residents can lease for a nominal fee. Another section is reserved to grow fresh produce for the soup kitchen.
"Poverty is deeply rooted, and we tackle it from many angles in this community," said Sally Milius, Director of Grow Windham. "We depend on volunteers to help us get fresh food to those who need it most."
On Saturday, September 24, youth and adults from the Northeast Chapter of Giv2 (Give Squared) spent time helping out in the community garden. Teens began by weeding, and then picked up rakes and shovels to distribute mulch along pathways between raised beds. Student volunteers from Eastern CT State University worked nearby to dig new beds. After just a few hours, all of the wood chips had been spread.
"Teamwork can move a mountain of mulch!" said Michelle Mlyniec from Hampton Congregational Church.
The Giv2 model focuses on collaboration between congregations to offer service projects in local settings. Youth gather for fellowship, engage in volunteer work, and then take time for theological reflection as part of their time together. Youth not only grow in awareness of the needs of their neighbors, but also practice generosity.
Kate Murdock, youth leader from First Church in Woodstock, led a time of reflection by reading a passage from 2 Corinthians 9:6, "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."
"I am grateful to live in a place where people designate areas to grow food for those who can't. I saw God's presence in the eyes of all the volunteers," said Sarah, a teen form East Woodstock Congregational Church.
The group closed the loop by picking produce and then delivering the items to the Covenant Soup Kitchen just a few miles away.
There was a sense of accomplishment noted by one teen as the morning came to a close, "The work we did today helped show our love and compassion to our community."
Debby Kirk is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the CT Conference, United Church of Christ.