Harvesting Hope

Harvesting Hope


Peoria Quest Academy StudentsTucked into the neighborhood by St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Louisa Street in Peoria is a 2.1-acre garden bursting with beans. And peas, strawberries, tomatoes, Swiss chard, okra, peppers—the list goes on. All kinds of good things grow in the Garden of Hope.

But why is a hospital system like OSF HealthCare investing in a community garden, you might be wondering.

Ask the junior high students from Peoria’s Quest Academy, who took a field trip to the garden on a warm August day. They planted lettuce and basil, toured the Care-A-Van, and learned how to make watermelon salsa.

Ambulatory nursing care manager at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Susan M. Smith, RN, BSN, quizzed the students on what they learned about nutrition, exercise, and health. “Not eating enough fruits and vegetables in a day makes you more likely to get a chronic disease like high blood pressure or diabetes: True or false?”

“True!” the students chimed together.

Take note: It is true. A lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life—known as food insecurity—contributes to poor health outcomes. One in eight Americans experiences food insecurity. And children who are at risk for hunger are more likely to have health challenges and to struggle in school.

But you can’t eat five fruits or vegetables a day if you don’t have access to them. Lack of adequate food is a big problem in Peoria, where food insecurity hurts more than 14% of residents, well above the Illinois average of 11%. Jo Garrison, DNP, NEA-BC, thought that tackling food insecurity could not only help curb hunger in Peoria, but also improve health. And so the Garden of Hope came to be.

Garrison, director of ambulatory patient care at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, surveyed clients of the Care-A-Van at St. Ann’s. Of 165 people who responded, 140 said they experience food insecurity. Your donations to the Garden of Hope make a difference for the neighbors of St. Ann’s.

This summer more than 5,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables have been given away, says Mike Brooks, community gardener and parish nurse. Neighbors near the garden come on Wednesdays to receive produce. What food remains goes to local food pantries and soup kitchens on Thursdays.

There may be even more hidden treasure in the garden. Angela Wissel, RN, BSN, a faith community nurse, was on hand to teach the kids about the value of gardening as a positive physical activity. “Gardening can teach people a way to relieve stress,” she says. And learning how to grow your own food can also lead to a huge sense of accomplishment.

Quest Academy StudentIf you ask Brooks how he likes the job, he says, “I love it. There’s no better job than getting paid to help people.” He also loves that neighbors come sit and visit with one another on the two benches in the garden.

But there is a wish list of items that YOUR donations can help fund:

  • a pavilion for sun protection for conducting classes
  • a shed (plus painting)
  • a fence
  • soil, plants, fruit trees
  • a serenity garden with statues and benches

In addition to donations, volunteers are always needed to help plant, weed, and harvest.

However you can help, your generosity to the garden helps hope—and health—bloom in Peoria.

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