A new community garden project at The Salvation Army in Sarnia, Ont., is filling a gap in services by offering fresh produce and a place for people to gather, find purpose and learn new skills. With its foundation laid in the fall of 2023, the garden is set to commence its first growing season this spring.

“Through our community and family services, we saw that many people experiencing homelessness in the community were wandering around our property after hours. During the day, they would come inside for food, drinks and other supports, but after hours, they had nowhere to go,” explains Captain Brad Webster, corps officer at Sarnia Community Church. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we address this in a way that is still dignified and respectful?’ ”

In response, Sarnia Community Church applied for a territorial innovation grant to convert an underutilized grassy area into a vibrant garden space. In partnership with Sipkens Nurseries, the garden was expertly designed to accommodate 24 fruit-bearing trees and a variety of other fruit, vegetable and herb plants meant to thrive in Sarnia’s hardiness zone. The centre of the garden features an intentionally designed prayer space for peaceful prayer and reflection. Community members are welcome to sit, pray or have someone from the corps pray with them.

The new space, called the HOPE Garden—Helping Other People Eat—will be left open and maintained by corps members and anybody else in the community who wishes to participate. According to Captain Webster, contributing to the garden’s upkeep is a dignified way for people to receive practical support and a sense of purpose.

“It’s been a great way to build bridges and relationships, and to say, ‘This is not just the Army’s garden, but this is also your garden,’ ”says Captain Webster. “We can invite people into the property, even when every other place is closed, and they are welcome to pick fruits or vegetables here.” 

With a considerable increase in the cost of living and food insecurity on the rise, the food bank in Sarnia sees about 600 families a month, with many commenting that they must choose between paying bills or putting food on the table. Some of the produce harvested from HOPE Garden will go to the food bank for distribution. “Fresh produce is often lacking in food banks,” Captain Webster notes. “This garden allows us to put that nutritious food into the hands of those who need it.”

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