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Watching their community garden grow
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Watching their community garden grow

Temple Shalom member Raquel D’Antonio plants vegetables with help from her daughter, Brooke, kneeling, and Hannah Sammut. Looking on is Karin O’Callahan from the Matawan United Methodist Church.
Temple Shalom member Raquel D’Antonio plants vegetables with help from her daughter, Brooke, kneeling, and Hannah Sammut. Looking on is Karin O’Callahan from the Matawan United Methodist Church.

Collecting money and food to feed the hungry is central to many religious institutions, but two synagogues and a church in Aberdeen have decided go back to their biblical roots and actually grow food for the poor.

Temple Beth Ahm and Temple Shalom have banded with the Matawan United Methodist Church to plant a community garden to supply fresh produce to the church’s food pantry.

At the May 23 ground breaking and dedication ceremony at Temple Shalom, congregants of all ages from the three institutions, a few patrons of the food pantry, and members of the church’s Girl Scout troop got their hands dirty, digging and planting the Gan Tikvah Garden of Hope.

“I believe in partnership ministries,” the Rev. Sue Flicker told NJJN. “I believe this is a true community ministry. This is an answered prayer for us. We also try to feed people spiritually, and to see these temples work together with a Christian church — that’s how faith communities should work.”

Flicker said the church food pantry, which has recently seen an “amazing” upswing in need, has a longstanding relationship with Beth Ahm, which has collected items for it for years. When the two synagogues approached the church with the plan, its leaders’ reaction was, “What can we do to help?”

The pastor said when she came to the church eight years ago, the pantry was serving about 10 families weekly, but the need has increased and now about 50 families come to its Tuesday evening operations, 30 on Thursday mornings.

Janet Kaplan, Beth Ahm’s social action chair, said her Conservative synagogue keeps a hamper that members continually fill with nonperishable food items that are brought to the church, and a “corners of the field” collection is also held each Yom Kippur.

Meanwhile, Temple Shalom was selected as one of eight congregations statewide participating in Greening Reform Judaism, a two-year pilot program sponsored by GreenFaith — a New Brunswick-based interfaith coalition working with houses of worship and religious schools to help them become better environmental stewards — and the Union for Reform Judaism (see sidebar).

As part of that “greening” program, Temple Shalom’s social action chair, Lenore Robinson, called Kaplan to suggest the two synagogues plant a community garden. Kaplan said she told her about the ongoing relationship with the church and proposed donating the garden’s produce to the food pantry. “Everyone was very receptive, and when I called the church they were so happy,” said Kaplan.

Robinson said Temple Shalom also has a tradition of feeding the hungry by donating contributions and leftovers from celebrations to area food banks and a women’s shelter and loved the idea of “going green” with the garden. They enlisted the help of Harold Binder, a master gardener from Rutgers University.

So using donated materials — including mulch from the municipality of Aberdeen — the gardeners wielded their tools and dug beds, fenced in plots, and planted beets, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, radishes, and other vegetables.

“We got much more done than expected,” said Robinson, who said the final touches would be completed over the next several weeks. A schedule of weeding, watering, and harvesting is being prepared so members of all three houses of worship can tend the garden.

“This is fantastic project,” said Kaplan. “It got people interested and involved and sharing. It is a good community project.”

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