WESTBROOK – Last year, the Rev. Kelli Whitman gave a sermon to the congregation at Prides Corner Congregational Church about helping those less fortunate. The sermon sparked an idea that is now reaping fresh dividends for the community every week.

“I was preaching one Sunday and after church Shari [Salisbury] and Tammy [Gross] came up to me and said, ‘Your sermon talked about hungry people in Westbrook. Couldn’t we do something about that?’” Whitman said.

Salisbury and Gross approached Whitman with the idea of building a garden in back of the church and donating all the fresh vegetables to the Westbrook Food Pantry. Whitman told the duo to run with their plan.

A year later, the project has taken off, and now, members of the congregation meet on Monday nights for a few hours to pick their ripe tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, onions, radishes, peppers, carrots, zucchini and string beans, along with other produce, and then clean and pack the harvest for a Tuesday morning drop-off at the pantry.

“The guys at Prides Corner [Congregational Church] have just done an incredible job with the garden. It’s just a blessing. It’s just been wonderful stuff, I wish six more places would do it,” said Jeanne Rielly, director of the pantry.

Rielly said the pantry serves about 300 families each week.

Through the United Church of Christ, Prides Corner Congregational received a $2,000 grant that helped pay for rain barrels and seeds. The church has been lucky to have most of the other supplies needed for the start-up garden donated by various organizations in and around the city.

In exchange for the grant, the church must help prepare school lunches for the students of Westbrook during vacations and other breaks, part of the Feed the Families campaign of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the grant, the Westbrook Community Center, which houses the food pantry, donated five, 5-by-10-foot planting boxes. The soil was donated by Gorham Sand and Gravel and compost was donated by Coast of Maine Compost. Salisbury grew the seedlings.

During this rainy spring, members of the congregation, including many youths, helped the women put down compost and build a fence around the garden.

“Everyone from the church got a chance to help with this project, whether it was helping us build the garden or just donating plastic containers for us to transfer the vegetables to the pantry. We’ve received so much support,” Whitman said.

Next year, the church plans to continue the project, expanding it to include berry bushes.

“It’s always good to know people are listening and applying what we’re talking about to our community,” Whitman said. “This is something that really impacts people and makes a difference not just in the church, but in the community.”

Parishioners at Prides Corner Church harvest vegetables for a local food bank from garden plots behind the church.Tammy Gross adjusts the collection trough on the water barrels behind the Prides Corner Congregational Church. The barrels, purchased with grant money, collected enough to water the garden all summer, cutting down on the costs to run the gardens.A collection of tomatoes and green beans from the Labor Day weekend harvest.  After the vegetables were washed, Lynnell Gauvin, Sandy Grady, the Rev. Kelli Whitman and Karen Mayo package them for delivery to the Westbrook Food Pantry.

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