With ABHMS grant, partners Phillips Memorial Baptist Church and nonprofit CCAP sow seeds of hope while feeding those in need

VALLEY FORGE, PA (06/26/2024)—Church-based community gardens are often inspired by congregations wanting to give back to their communities and create connections. Churches often desire to restore the soil and create welcoming green spaces so that their members and the community can appreciate what God has made.

When COVID hit in 2020, congregants at Phillips Memorial Baptist Church in Cranston, Rhode Island, yearned for togetherness absent in-person worship. This desire transformed into action—church volunteers led by the Rev. Alan Newton, then-interim pastor, began a garden to feed their community. Newton, who completed a master gardener program at the University of Rhode Island, has since increased the team of volunteers to 35 individuals.

Photo by Ny Menghor on Unsplash

Photo by Ny Menghor on Unsplash.

The church partners with Comprehensive Community Action Program Inc. (CCAP), a nonprofit serving 40,000 low-income people in Cranston and neighboring towns, to distribute the garden’s yield—over a ton of vegetables per year—to CCAP’s clients via a food pantry. “We’ve not had to throw anything away ever,” said Newton, now garden program manager. “We bring it in the morning, and it’s gone by noon. The need for fresh vegetables in the population that uses food pantries is very high.”

In 2020, Providence County’s food insecurity rate was 19.6% among children and 11.6% overall, the highest in Rhode Island. The number of Cranston residents seeking food at the Cranston Food Pantry grew from 2,697 in 2021 to 3,504 in 2022. In 2023, 3,714 individuals, just under 1,000 of them children, received nutritious foods. For many, the food pantry was their only source of more expensive fresh produce, like kale, eggplant or raspberries.

In addition to producing food in the community garden, the transformative impact of this project includes growing seedlings and sharing seed packets with people to start their own micro-gardens; increasing biodiversity in the area; protecting pollinators; and creating a social space for Cranston residents who become volunteers.

A $3,000 American Baptist Home Mission Societies grant awarded to CCAP helped the organization purchase program supplies for the vegetable garden to ensure its continuation and growth. “It’s a way of giving back and really helping the neediest in our community, which to me is the gospel,” said Newton.

Church-based community gardens are wonderful avenues for neighborhood outreach. It takes little more than going outside in the front yard to strengthen bonds with the neighbors. Gardens also remind us we are God’s creation and are a reassurance that we will be provided for, as we read in Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” Indeed, the hands that plant, water and harvest food are the hands of God.

By Rev. Dr. Anna Piela, senior writer at ABHMS and assistant editor of The Christian Citizen