C U R R E N T F E A T U R E S T O R Y
by the Editors of ReligionToday
September 6, 2001
Church's 'Widow's Garden' Gives Seniors Nourishment and Fellowship
The sounds of Davis Highway and the hectic pace of the city fade away
when one enters 2 acres of cultivated farmland called the "Widow's
Nestled neatly between small orchards of pecan trees outside the walls
of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., the garden opened in 1999
under the direction of then-chairman of deacons Randy Knepper, who
credits God with prompting the idea from James 1:27: "Pure religion and
undefiled before God the Father is this; to visit the fatherless and
widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world"
"Our widows and seniors needed something, and we as deacons needed to
take care of them," Knepper said.
Knowing that most of the widows didn't have the opportunity or ability
to plant a garden of their own, Knepper approached the deacons at Olive
with the idea of a churchwide project.
"I contacted Tom Farris, a fellow church member and an agriculture
teacher at Ransom Middle School, to help me get started," Knepper
recounted. After testing the soil, spreading 600 pounds of fertilizer
and breaking the ground, the soil was ready for sowing.
Sponsored by the deacons of Olive, the Widow's Garden is open to all of
the church's widows and seniors. Each deacon is assigned a widow and
given the responsibility of picking vegetables for them if they are
unable to do so themselves.
"What was fun about this was hearing and seeing some of the widows
picking [vegetables] themselves and then carrying them to other elderly
people," Knepper said.
Church member Loma West, 83, arrives almost daily to collect from the
garden's harvest. West not only picks, but also shells peas before
delivering them to at least 20 other "old folks," as she calls her
The deacons support the garden financially, sometimes calling on
donations from Sunday school classes, while volunteers cultivate and
then harvest their efforts. Church member Harold Johnson, who works
daily in the garden, recalled collecting $850 in one hour of Sunday
"We only needed $750 to purchase a tiller and some other garden
equipment, but we walked away with a hundred extra [dollars] that
allowed us to do more," Johnson said. The garden also has been blessed
with the addition of a new tractor complete with spreader and breaking
An irrigation system allows the garden to be bountiful throughout the
year. In the summer months the gardeners tend to a watermelon patch,
cantaloupes, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, peas, butterbeans,
peppers, eggplants, zucchini and even peanuts. And in the winter the
garden supplies pecans, collards, turnips, broccoli, cabbage, red
potatoes and green onions.
Another vital volunteer to the garden is church member Harry Hassebrock,
who owns a nursery in Cantonment and donates all of the fertilizer and
plants that are used.
Jean Rea, Olive's social service director, leads a widowed person's
support group at Olive. A widow herself, Rea said the widows of a church
often tend to be forgotten.
"The Widow's Garden has made sort of a camaraderie among us. It makes
our widows and seniors feel special," Rea said. "One of the interesting
things about the garden is not the actual food, but the entertainment
and memories that it brings back. It is good therapy for everyone."
By Janet Little Cooper, Baptist Press
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