Volunteering and gardening

By Michael Deverell, Bay of Islands Cooperating, Northland

For quite some time, as treasurer of the ecumenical Bay of Islands foodbank, I have pondered the thought of how we could encourage more people to grow their own vegetables, especially those unemployed and on low incomes. What I heard and discussed at the Volunteering Conference spurred me into taking tentative steps towards this goal.

I listened to a paper presented by the manager of the New Brighton Community Gardens, Ms George Stanley, and had discussions with her. I also heard from Liz Hampton of IBM how volunteer organisations can form partnerships with companies. Again, I was impressed by the school pupils of Volunteering Otago who showed how young people can be involved in voluntary organisations.

With the knowledge I gained from these people, I have been able to take my ideas along to our foodbank. I am encouraged by their approval to support and explore the possibility of developing a community garden. At this stage we are putting the idea to leaders in the community.

Some of the ideas springing from the Conference are these:

  • That maybe we should be looking at a community garden rather than helping individuals with their own gardens.
  • We had a huge increase in food parcels, due to the fact that the company that employs the biggest number of people in the area closed down for 11 weeks. Similar closures are likely to be an annual event. My thought, then, is to ask why not see if we can form some form of partnership with this company. They have surplus land and they could encourage their staff to become involved.
  • We could also encourage school pupils to become involved, growing seedlings etc.

Overriding all this, was the presentation of Melissa Moon, world champion stair climber and mountain climber. She showed me that people of high achievements can, in spite of, or maybe because of, their focus, determination and passion to attain a goal in a certain area, still have compassion for other people. Her story as a volunteer for eight years at the Home of Compassion soup kitchen, and her dedication to those they help, exemplified this. She showed how she went beyond the basic help to building a relationship with some of those she met there. For example, she discovered an alcoholic man, living on the streets, had artistic talents and encouraged him to take up sketching. He did a wonderful portrait of her which she displayed at the conference. This is Christ in action.