HSP of Carroll County partners with United Way of Central Maryland, Carefirst, and Sandy Springs Bank for annual winterization of the community garden. (Michel Elben / Carroll County Times)
Pulling weeds, 15 volunteers helped the Human Services Programs of Carroll County winterize their garden during United Way of Central Maryland's annual Day of Action. The group worked in the garden in downtown Westminster on Wednesday morning.
"It's just a way to support the nonprofit community," said Peggy Gagen, United Way of Central Maryland's director of regional partnerships and health program officer. "It gives businesses a chance to participate in the community and it's a way to give back and see the community's needs close up."
Gagen said more than 450 volunteers participated in this year's Day of Action events throughout Central Maryland. Eleven Sandy Spring Bank employees and four Carefirst employees volunteered in HSP's garden.
"On our Day of Action, business and community partners work to help the nonprofits take care of things they don't have the resources to do," Gagen explained. "In this case, HSP needed help winterizing the community garden. We've partnered with their Access to Healthy Foods program for five years and the Family Stability Homeless Prevention Program for three years."
According to Jenny Graybill, HSP of Carroll County's director of workforce development, 100 percent of the garden's produce goes to low-income families. She said different churches, nonprofits, and community members adopt a garden plot and harvest what they grow to serve in their soup kitchens or food pantries. Any additional produce goes to HSP's five shelters and may also be distributed at HSP's Second Chance store in Westminster.
Graybill said the volunteers helped winterize the garden by taking down tomato cages and pulling down weeds and corn husks. She said they would also harvest some of the garden's remaining summer crops.
"When the garden is ready to be plowed, it's all ready to go," Graybill said.
Graybill said the organization assists more than 10,000 low-income community members in Carroll County each year. This year, they will harvest more than 1,000 pounds of produce, feeding more than 500 households.
"One in six people in America are hungry. One in four of those people are children," Graybill said. "Our goal is to mobilize the entire community in the fight against poverty."
Graybill said that, unfortunately, those who have a limited budget do not always have access to healthy foods.
"The cheaper foods you can buy are not always healthy foods. We want to feed people healthy, good things," Graybill said. "We grew Swiss Chard in the garden and we taught people how to cook it. We want people to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime and pass them onto their children."
"We all know what the health issues are," added Gagen. "One way to help those that are struggling is to look at it holistically. If a child is healthy and eating appropriately, they don't miss school and they stay on top of their education. They're more likely to be successful. Parents don't miss work because the kids are sick and they don't have high health expenses. It's all interconnected."
Wendy Rader, of Union Bridge, was one of the volunteers who helped winterize the garden. She is the manager of Compliance, Contracts, and Enrollment and Billing Quality for Large Groups at Carefirst in Owings Mills.
"Carefirst sponsors a day of service every year," Rader said. "Associates that donate a certain dollar amount to the United Way can be involved in the Day of Service. We get choices of what volunteer activities we can participate in."
Rader said she chose this opportunity because she lives in Carroll County.
"Any time there's an event in the community I live in, I want to give back," Rader said. "It's important to contribute to the community you live in. I'm just happy to be here and to be part of this event representing Carefirst."
Sandy Spring Bank training specialist Jackie Kister also helped in the garden. She said the bank has a group called Experience Champions, who work to improve the bank's client relations.
"We help with different initiatives and we want to give back to the community," Kister said. "We hooked up with United Way because they have lots of different opportunities today. This resonates, being able to help feed people in the area. I'm happy to be a part of this because it allows us to get out and connect with the community."
Graybill said there are many volunteer opportunities including helping at the cold weather shelters, mentoring, doing clothing drives, or teaching tax preparation.
"We like people to figure out what they're passionate about," Graybill said.