Garden produce helps feed the hungry



The garden at the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, 620 Belmont Ave., grows by the grace and grit of dedicated volunteers who like to dig in the dirt.

The Valley’s Dorothy Day House opened Nov. 22, 2009, and had a garden the summer of 2010.

Karen Green and Mary DePiore Hlebovy are the unofficial coordinators of a gardening team of about a dozen volunteers. Green, who said she “loves gardening,” grows vegetables and flowers, while DePiore Hlebovy focuses on vegetables.

Both said their motivation was “helping people” and they didn’t mind getting dirty while doing so. Both are retired. Green was the president’s secretary at Youngstown State University, and DePiore Hlebovy, a teacher and librarian in Youngstown schools.

DePiore Hlebovy wrote the grant that made the Dorothy Day House a recipient of a $4,600 Neighborhood Success Grant from the Raymond John Wean Foundation. The fund bought a hoop house, or greenhouse, which will allow gardeners to grow nearly year-round.

“We got it in April and [had] started our seedlings in March,” DePiore Hlebovy said, noting that was a bit late in the gardening season. “We’ll really see the fullness of it next year.”

Green added, “We’ll be growing through the winter now.”

The gardeners said they also have three compost bins and had the soil tested and found it to be in good condition.

For a place that depends on donations, the yield of the garden provides a welcome supplement. The house serves between 120 and 127 meals nightly, Mondays through Thursdays.

The garden produces tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, Swiss chard, rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, zucchini and garlic. Among herbs grown are basil, rosemary, oregano, tarragon and parsley; what’s not used fresh will be dried for year-round use.

“Guests love the Swiss chard sauteed with olive oil and onions,” said Sister Ann McManamon of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, who has served as director since the house opened. “It’s the most popular side dish.”

This season’s strawberry harvest provided desserts at multiple meals. Last season, the volunteers canned 60 quarts of tomatoes for use and took home basil to make pesto and look forward to the same this year.

Sister Ann said she is pleased the Youngstown house of hospitality has a garden like so many other Dorothy Day sites. She said, “It ... is an opportunity for people to work in the soil.”

She said guests are encouraged to work in the garden. “It helps them feel a part of the house, and it’s a healing experience to be in touch with the earth.”

Sister Ann said she believes the garden helps reinforce the idea “that we’re all connected as creatures of God” and “the awareness that we all will return to the earth someday.”

The connection reveals itself. Green acknowledged she was a bit apprehensive about working with the homeless. “After meeting people, you find out you’re more alike than different,” she said.

She added that those who serve “get so much more than they give ... helping is something I’m passionate about.”

DePiore Hlebovy said it was important to her “to be involved in the community.” She said she views the Dorothy Day House as a “spiritual place that gives hope.”

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