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On any given day, you’re likely to find Jerry Brown working in the vegetable garden that lies right in the middle of The Salvation Army of Lafayette, Louisiana. He’s all but guaranteed to have a massive grin across his face. Jerry is the Social Services Case Manager at the Lafayette Corps, and his passion for helping people combined with his passion for gardening has helped to produce a beautiful community garden. The food grown in this garden will supplement the food for their shelter kitchen—which feeds not only the residents of the shelter but also many hungry people from the community, often entire families. He has taken on the community garden as sort of a special project, acting as lead gardener while always welcoming help from volunteers. “The concept has always been a community garden—one that’s been put in by the community, maintained by the community. It’s on our physical property here, but everyone pitches in . . . I provide some oversight, direction, and it exists on volunteers is what it amounts to,” said Jerry. “Much like what God does, you need some fertile ground to plant that seed, so the roots sink in deep.”

The garden is surrounded by a cinder block border containing marigolds and other flowers which serve as a natural defense against aphids and other harmful insects. The garden contains tomatoes, different types of peppers, romaine lettuce, beans, cucumbers, eggplants, different spices, cantaloupes and watermelons. Jerry adds, “We have plans for a few other things—radishes, carrots, and whatever else we can find.” The plants in the garden have mostly been donated. All Seasons Nursery, a local garden center, held a Salvation Army Day where they matched donations and sales in the form of a gift card to The Salvation Army. There have also been several donations from people around the community just checking in and providing what was needed. Jerry said, “It’s amazing. Anytime we need something it’s always provided, always.”

In addition to the food provided by the garden, Jerry also places a high value on the fellowship that comes from working on it and watching it grow. He recalls, “A number of us were actually planting the seedlings, and we just started talking about, there’s a time to plant and a time to reap, and we kind of expanded on that into our own little Bible study…” That seed of remembering a bible verse grew into a larger discussion about their faith and the foundation of their faith—how people grow when God has planted them in good soil and how that leads to bearing fruit in their lives. “It’s just, it’s a blessing. It’s amazing,” Jerry adds, “the community involvement just keeps getting better and better.”

When asked what effect he thought the community garden will have on the shelter residents, besides the obvious benefit of having fresh fruits and vegetables to eat, Jerry emphasized the calm and welcoming nature that it adds to the shelter environment—being just one aspect of a greater effort to bring more comfort and stability to the men staying there. Jerry said, “The shelter has been transitioning over the past year. For instance, we started serving breakfast for the men. Just that little bit helps them hold their head a little higher and put their shoulders back and they say, ‘Ok, I can face today.’ I mean, being on the streets, it’s not easy. Just that little bit right there, that little bit of fellowship and prayer in the mornings, that helps. They come here, it’s a place of refuge where they can let that breath out, and go ‘whew, I don’t have to look over my back anymore.’ We have love and compassion here. These are people that care. Look around the environment right here, it’s not a harsh environment, it’s a welcoming—that’s what we are.”

Daphne Nabors is the Communications Director for the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division of The Salvation Army.