Nurturing Compassion: Gardening for Food Banks


Harper Treschuk

Rising unemployment and the economic stresses of the pandemic have exacerbated food insecurity for many families. With a common desire to give back, FLHS students and the Fairfield community have joined in various efforts to grow produce for local food banks. These initiatives–Fresh for All, the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks, and the Operation Hope garden–have all brought fresh vegetables to clients and fulfillment to volunteers.

Incoming FLHS sophomore Danielle Prohaska has been gardening for Fairfield food banks since 5th grade, when she had too many tomatoes and decided to donate them to Operation Hope. She shares about her inspiration for the project, “I had started the school newspaper for my elementary school while on the student council, and I was writing a regular column on kids doing community service, and writing that column inspired me to also do something and get other kids from my school involved.”

Through her project Fresh for All, Danielle has forged connections with fellow gardeners and also found a meaningful way to help people who are food insecure. In addition to growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce in her home garden, Danielle collects produce from other families to donate to Operation Hope. Typically, kale, squash, cucumber, and tomatoes are the main contributions received.

Gardeners who are interested to participate in Fresh for All can drop off produce at a few different locations. Operation Hope accepts donations of fruit and vegetables at the front desk of their 636 Post Road location. Danielle has placed a bin inside the front door of Greenfield Hill Congregational Church. She also invites FLHS students to contact her directly. “There is a cooler in my driveway….and I will happily pick up any contributions.”

Representative Town Meeting official and community activist Sharon Brodeur Pistilli was also inspired to grow fresh produce to respond to a growing community need. She created the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks initiative this spring and started by organizing donations of seedlings and garden supplies. A Greenfield Hill resident graciously offered her garden space to the group.

Over the past month, the group has planted kale, lettuce, pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, eggplant, squash, radishes, and carrots. With Sharon’s expert coordination, over a dozen volunteers have had the opportunity to help with weeding, mulching, daily watering, and harvesting while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

As an incoming junior with passions for gardening and community service, I was excited to merge my interests through volunteering at the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks. In a spring when I would have otherwise felt isolated and disconnected, volunteering at the garden allowed me to reconnect with nature and my community.

Over the past week, I had the chance to see the culmination of the group’s hard work, with a delivery of four gallon-size bags of fresh lettuce, nine bags of kale, and radishes to the food pantry of Operation Hope in Fairfield. Other recipients include Semilla Collective and nOURish Bridgeport, which provide food to clients either in a community kitchen or food pantry capacity. 

Jacqueline Gaona Levin, a volunteer with Fairfield Garden for Food Banks, has delivered produce from the project to Semilla Collective in New Haven, an organization that focuses on supporting immigrants. Jacqueline shares about the mission of the Collective as exemplified by its co-founder Luis Luna. “Luis has been doing an amazing job helping those who found themselves excluded from fed stimulus even though they have American children.”

Jacqueline volunteers for Semilla Collective as a delivery driver and has the opportunity to see the impact that the fresh produce has on clients. “I am happy to see beautiful faces on each delivery….what my soul needs in these ugly times.” For Jacqueline, reaching out to immigrant families “was the least I could do.”

Jordan Stein, an incoming junior at FLHS, also felt called to reach out to our community during a time of rising unemployment and economic challenges. She has harvested produce at the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks and helped me to maintain a vegetable garden at Operation Hope’s 636 Post Road location. Jordan expresses her fulfillment in volunteering. “Every seed planted makes a difference for food pantries donating local produce to the unemployed…These small yet impactful actions are more important than ever, which is why I am so grateful for the opportunity to help out my community and make a difference through gardening.” She concludes, “I never thought harvesting a piece of kale or broccoli could feel so special and meaningful.”

Compassion for families in need shines through each gardener’s volunteering.

“I have always believed that canned goods are nice, but each family deserves fresh fruits and vegetables,” FLHS sophomore Danielle Prohaska remarks. “I am always very happy…doing Fresh for All because I know that I am helping people who are food insecure.”

Jacqueline Gaona Levin, who volunteers with Semilla Collective and the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks, encapsulates the meaning of community service. “It is not charity, but it is solidarity. Solidarity with our neighbors. Solidarity with our human fellows.”

Fresh for All, the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks, and the Operation Hope garden showcase how gardening can both nourish families in need and grow compassion in a time of rising food insecurity. In diverse ways, each gardener involved in these initiatives has come together in solidarity to support local food banks and their clients. As a community, we have united to grow fresh produce, and in doing so, nurture our connections to one another.