For many years, Linda Santos had looked at the empty corner of the grounds surrounding Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Princeton Pike.
That empty space nagged at Santos, until one day it occurred to her that perhaps it could be turned into a garden.
It was a natural project for Santos to take on, since she has a degree in plant sciences from Cornell University. She had worked on a commercial vegetable farm and on a research farm.
But what kind of garden, and what would happen to the produce?
Since Holy Trinity Lutheran Church has a relationship with HomeFront, Santos reached out to Brian Helmuth, the director of the Lawrence Community Center on Eggerts Crossing Road.
The Lawrence Community Center is managed by HomeFront as a site for its programs – including a food pantry – and as a community center for Lawrence Township residents. HomeFront is a nonprofit group that helps the homeless and the working poor.
Helmuth told Santos that he had met with other Mercer County food pantries, and the number one need is fresh fruits and vegetables. For many people, the food pantry is their grocery store, she said.
“Say no more,” Santos told Helmuth. “We know what we are going to do. We are going to plant a garden.”
And that’s what Santos and a handful of church members did. The garden, which was begun in 2017, is now in its third year. The variety and amount of fruits and vegetables has expanded since that first year.
The gardeners initially grew tomatoes, blueberries and members of the cabbage family, Santos said. In its second year, the gardeners added kale, beans and jalapenos. Now, eggplant, bell peppers and onions have been added to the mix.
To date this summer, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church gardeners have harvested more than 1,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables.
The gardeners take the fruits and vegetables to the Lawrence Community Center’s food pantry twice per month, timed to when the food pantry is open. When fruits and vegetables are ready in between those times, they are taken to HomeFront’s headquarters on Princeton Avenue, she said.
As a church, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church congregation wants to give back to the community, Santos said, adding that “we don’t get anything from the garden” except for the satisfaction that it generates.
“God loves us and and gives us many abilities. We want to share what we have been gifted with. I have an interest and expertise with crops, and I can use it to benefit other people,” Santos said.
But there is more to the garden than raising crops for the food pantry, she said. I’ts also an avenue for volunteer gardeners to get together for fellowship time – whether it is weeding the garden or harvesting the produce.
“It’s another way of being with people. Each brings benefits to the other. The garden is meant to be more than food. It is fellowship an sharing God’s love,” Santos said.
“You see what people can do to contribute to other people’s lives. One person can inspire another person,” Santos said.