Melwood, a nonprofit organization that supports people of all ages with differing abilities headquartered in Upper Marlboro, have made and arranged multiple donations of vegetable and flowering plants to different hospitals and organizations through its horticulture training center amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
One of the recipients was Capital Christian Fellowship Church in Lanham, which received donations from Melwood’s camp in Nanjemoy on April 23. The church was the only partner who was still operational at the time and in compliance with Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) then-current orders, according to Suse Greenstone, manager of horticultural therapy at Melwood.
“CCF offered to help us with the plant donation and could assure that the plants would be distributed safely in compliance with food plant handling guidelines,” Greenstone said. “CCF is growing many of the vegetable plants from the donation in the food pantry garden there and will care for the plants until harvesting in the next month.”
The church has partnered with Melwood since 2018, leading classes on how to grow plants and preparing meals from the plants during the growing season. The church was scheduled to partner with Melwood again in 2020 in leading gardening classes, but the virus caused the classes to be cancelled, according to Bishop Glenn Kauffman, lead pastor of the church.
“[COVID-19] could not stop the partnership,” Kauffman said. “Suse Greenstone and Melwood leaders found this way of sharing plants and giving us guidance on the care as a way we can express our mutual goals this year.”
Kauffman said the church’s food pantry went from being open three hours a week to 11 hours, and the number of households served has more than doubled. He said Melwood brought expertise on how to improve the gardens and the organizations have worked together to provide for everyone each serves.
“The plants are first for the learning and relational interaction that happens in the cooperation of people who tend to the plants as they are growing,” Kauffman said. “Of course, as a church, we are in a people business so the gardens support that end.”
Kauffman said this year’s donation from Melwood provided so many plants that the church’s garden was filled with much left over. He said the church decided to donate the additional plants to the food pantry clients and members of the church.
“We are asking them to consider this an extension of our food growing and food pantry,” Kauffman said. “The user choice approach and intentional relationship building are the marks of our approach to [our] food pantry.”
Greenstone said the church is also staying in touch with patrons of the food pantry who received plants to grow at home, to assist the gardeners with information and help when needed. She said if the patrons have any questions about their gardens, food pantry volunteers or staff who are knowledgeable about gardening will be available to answer.
In addition to the church, Melwood has also made and arranged donations to multiple different organizations in and outside the county. Greenstone said the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center, Spring Dell Center in La Plata and Charles County HARC in Waldorf have received nearly 300 flowering plants total, with the latter two organizations having former Melwood homes.
Greenstone said additional vegetable plants will be going to area food banks, plus flowering plants were donated to area hospitals during Nurses Appreciation Week, May 6-12. She said additional flowering plants will be going to area group homes and nursing homes, in order to provide support to residents who may be feeling lonely or isolated.
Outside of the county, Melwood has donated or is scheduled to donate plants to the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, food assistance and health care groups in Arlington and Fairfax County, Va., and six hospitals and nursing homes in Washington, D.C. Greenstone said more donations are currently being planned.
“For over 55 years, Melwood has been dedicated to the people and communities it serves. During these especially difficult times, our most vulnerable communities need our support now more than ever,” said Cari DeSantis, Melwood president and CEO. “We are proud to be able to donate thousands of vegetable plants to our area’s food pantries and care providers and help supply our communities with nutritious food.”
Greenstone highlighted the importance of learning how to grow food, especially amid the pandemic. She said growing food is a basic survival skill and can reduce an individual or family’s need to shop for fresh produce, saving money on food during a time of crisis when food is more expensive.
“[Learning to grow food] is empowering emotionally, financially and socially,” Greenstone said. “The more food that can be grown at home, or nearby one’s home, in a community garden, the more food secure individuals and families can become.”
Greenstone said a large yard is not needed to grow fresh produce, as it can be done in smaller spaces and can accommodate people of differing abilities by raising planters and pots for easier access. She said it is something school children can do in home-based settings, not only providing for families but also applying education to studying the process of growing a plant.
For community members looking to help, Greenstone said Melwood is always looking for volunteers willing to deliver flower and vegetable plant donations and sew masks for essential employees continuing to work during the pandemic. She said donations will assist hundreds of Melwood workers who are first responders, plus supporting opportunities for people of differing abilities and injured veterans.
Kauffman suggested giving finances through the church and/or Melwood to support the vulnerable and those who care for them. He said promoting the way the organizations are reaching out for food and emotional assistance through social networks will help display the vital work being done.
“In all of our outreach we want to value the people. I believe that all people are created in the image of God and thus deserve being treated with dignity,” Kauffman said. “Your giving says you are part of the answer, you helped make it possible.”