Tucked away near St. Ann Catholic Church in south Peoria is a 2.1-acre community garden bursting with beans, peas, strawberries, tomatoes, Swiss chard, okra, peppers and more. It’s called the Garden of Hope, and over the summer it produced more than 5,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for distribution to neighborhood residents.
OSF HealthCare has invested in the garden to provide access to healthy foods in an area that is otherwise food-insecure. “This initiative is so important to the health of our community,” explains Jo Garrison, director of ambulatory patient care at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, who notes that nearly 13 percent of Peorians experience food insecurity. “There is a strong association between chronic disease and food insecurity as it relates to health outcomes. Access to fresh fruits and vegetables has the potential to improve one’s health.”
Groups of volunteers help prep, plant, weed and pick the vegetables, while medical students and residents at UICOMP have built raised beds and spent time onsite educating residents about healthy eating habits. “[They] are truly seeking out opportunities to dig in deep to their communities,” notes Mary Stapel, OSF HealthCare medical director for community care. “They want to see how they can make a difference for our most vulnerable patients.”
Next year, the Garden of Hope will be expanded by removing some blacktop, adding a shed and creating a meditation garden for neighbors to sit and enjoy the outdoors. Mike Brooks, garden coordinator, says that he loves what he does. “I want this garden to be not only a place where we feed people, but a place where people gather, learn and share in a sense of accomplishment,” he explains. There is currently a wish list of needs for the garden, ranging from material items to willing volunteers. To make a contribution, visit osfhealthcarefoundation.org/gardenofhope. PM