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New Greenhouse to Stock Catholic Charities Food Offerings in Rockland - Catholic New York

LuAnn Kelley clearly remembers the vision Martha Robles expressed 10 years ago.

“She takes me into the kitchen to look out the window and she says, ‘I’m seeing a garden.’ I said, ‘Where are you seeing a garden?’ and she explained it to me. I really started to see it,” said Ms. Kelley, who is the associate director of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland.

“It went from a piece of land that had nothing at all on it to something absolutely beautiful and great for our clients.”

As Ms. Robles and Ms. Kelley look out the kitchen window this winter, they will no longer just see a barren garden. They will see a new greenhouse filled with seeds growing into fruit and vegetable plants.

In April, Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland expanded its garden by adding a 24-by 40-foot greenhouse to the existing 40-by-60-foot Garden of Love on its property in Haverstraw.

A meeting next month will outline plans for the greenhouse, including planting of the first seeds.

“This is beyond exciting,” said Ms. Robles, who is in her 12th year as executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland.

“It’s been a dream of ours. We’ve wanted a greenhouse all along.”

It took seven years of submitting grant applications for the greenhouse to become a reality when New York state presented Catholic Charities Community Services a $50,000 grant. A big assist came from Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, a Democrat representing the 94th district that includes Clarkstown, Haverstraw and parts of Ramapo in Rockland County.

The grant money was used to flatten the ground on which the greenhouse sits, and will be used to purchase supplies as well as a new refrigerator and freezer to store the food.

Catholic Charities Community Services provides more than 100,000 meals annually to more than 1,500 individuals courtesy of its food pantry.

The Garden of Love grows over 2,000 pounds of produce annually, Ms. Robles said. Lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, green and jalapeno peppers, radishes, cucumbers, scallions and squash are among the fresh produce grown in the Garden of Love.

Catholic Charities also educates clients by hosting nutritionists who discuss healthy eating habits, and chefs from local restaurants drop by to cook and share recipes.

That’s in addition to other responsibilities such as assisting families with food stamp eligibility or financial emergency relief for eviction prevention, utilities, funerals and other basic needs.

Ms. Robles said the number of meals distributed and cases has grown over the last 10 years.

“If I can’t help you or we can’t help you, we’re going to find someone to help you,” Ms. Robles said. “What I’m trying to put out there is we’re not just a food pantry; we’re a comprehensive food program with a case management program.’’

Ms. Robles said the garden and the food pantry are always in the market for additional volunteers. Local community colleges have recently expressed interest in offering interns.

Peter Moore, 74, a food pantry volunteer for six years, has overseen its operations for eight months. The Garnerville resident volunteers about 20 hours per week.

“We could have two growing seasons (with the greenhouse),” said Moore, who added that food pantry clients will volunteer for planting in the garden. “To get fresh produce is special, and there is a special taste to it.”

This all started as a vision and dream of Ms. Robles’ a decade ago that resulted in the Garden of Love, one of three gardens in Rockland County begun by Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland. The Garden of Faith at St. Ann’s in Nyack grows 2,000 pounds of produce annually for its food pantry, and the Garden of Hope at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern grows produce for therapeutic purposes.

In the coming months, Ms. Robles’ vision will continue to grow as the seeds in the greenhouse sprout into plants.

“I’m going to feel like I left a legacy behind. That will be my legacy to see this every step of the way, getting the money and making it happen,” Ms. Robles said.

“I can’t even tell you how I feel about it. For me, it’s just a vision coming to a total fruition. It will continue and get bigger and better every year.”

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