By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T

WEST BRANDYWINE – A joint effort in West Brandywine Township between Community Gardens of Chester County and St. Peter Parish hopes to bear fruit (and vegetables) to live the Gospel by helping to feed the poor and hungry.

Father Michael Fitzpatrick, pastor of St. Peter Parish, and members of the parish’s Good Works outreach came together Sept. 19 to take part in a program called “Gleaning Gardens.” They built two raised-bed vegetable gardens on the parish’s property and hope that the fruit of their labor will ease hunger in the local community.

The project was proposed in 1996 by state Sen. Andrew Dinniman, who at the time was a Chester County commissioner. The program went into effect in 1997, long before the present economic crisis. It seeks to produce locally grown organic fruits and vegetables for area food banks. St. Peter Parish is one of six area church communities with garden beds that are part of this growing program.

Mary Kay Peterson, director of Community Gardens of Chester County, said, “Even though the poor economy hasn’t hit our county severely, generous people who used to support local food banks are now in need of their services themselves.”

The program guides participants to primarily grow hardy vegetables such as cabbage, green beans, beets, collards and spinach. With these, there is a longer window for harvesting so there is less chance of waste.

“It is a great use of parish property,” said St. Peter parishioner James Mulry. “Hopefully, it will provide service opportunities … to others who aren’t involved yet.”

Father Fitzpatrick hopes students of Pope John Paul II Regional Elementary School will get involved in the future. The school is located on the same property near St. Peter Church. School principal Sister Anne McGuire, I.H.M., is open to the idea, with the proper provisions being made.

The Good Works outreach of St. Peter Parish is a group similar to Habitat for Humanity. Parishioners assist low-income homeowners in the Coatesville and Honey Brook areas by doing repairs, installing insulation and providing other services to make their homes safer and warmer.

Good Works director Christopher Kerr is happy for the organization to take part in the gleaning gardens project. “It’s wonderful how a good deed can be done through the cooperation of several volunteers coming together for a common goal,” he said.

“Coming together to help others brings all of us into the light of Christ,” said St. Peter parishioner Kenneth Slavik. “We had an outstanding turnout.”

Parishioner Michael Bodary enjoyed taking part in the project and can foresee the long-term benefits of the effort.

The gleaning gardens project is just one of the parish’s charitable outreach programs being accomplished by volunteer organizations. Other projects include Eagle Scouts building benches to be placed along the walkways, Knights of Columbus Council 10355 adopting a portion of Route 82 to keep clean, Boy Scout Troop 56 adopting a township road to keep clean and the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society assisting in keeping the gardens lush and green.

“I felt the spirit of the Lord moving throughout us,” said parishioner Sadie Kerr. “He guided my hands as I held a power drill for the first time.”

Volunteers gave of themselves in the hope that many people will be fed in body and in spirit.

George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.