Together is an organization dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness. They offer a ‘choose your own’ food pantry including fresh produce as well as housing/furnishings programs. The first thing we did was meet Matt, who would be our guide for the entire trip, and Scott and Dallas, members of our group who made a late arrival in Omaha the night before. Matt directed our activities and gave us a wealth of information throughout the day. We were able to work in the onsite garden. Our team waged war on weeds and spread mulch. By the time we put our hoes and shovels down, the garden was looking great. We also harvested a large box of vegetables that were ready to hit the pantry shelves. We received a facilities tour and explanation of Together’s activities and engagement model. By this time it was high noon, and the group was ready to eat!
The next destination was Table Grace Café, a pay as you can restaurant in downtown Omaha. Along with our guide Matt, we enjoyed fresh salads, soups, pizza, and pastry desserts. Everything was delicious and every plate was cleared. It was then time to get to work! The kids shucked corn, and the adults washed dishes, swept the floors, and made everything spick and span. By 2pm, it was time to move on.
Next on the agenda was a location near and dear to our guide, Matt’s, heart – the Gifford Park community gardens. Matt lives next door to the gardens, and he explained how the garden had provided an anchor to the community, and provided a safe space for the kids of the neighborhood who can farm their own small garden plots. There is also an adventure playground that the kids work on themselves. Before the garden was established, the land was blighted and a haven for drug users and other things not good for the neighborhood.
After the tour of the gardens, we moved on to the Gifford Park Friday Night market place – and we were the setup crew! We put up over a dozen pop-up tent structures and many tables, in preparation for the weekly market to open up Friday evening. This market provides locals an opportunity to buy fresh produce, as well as goods and services from many local merchants and artists.
The entire group then retired to the friendly confines of the EHUMC activity center. After washing up, we were treated to a dinner sponsored by the EHUMC. We really appreciated our gracious hosts for preparing food and serving us. Sloppy-joe sandwiches hit the spot, as did the brownie ice cream sundaes. We enjoyed fellowship with the team and learned about each others.
Norman had prepared a ‘Garden’ theme devotion and Rachel blessed us with two scripture readings. Norman led us through discussion and insights which fit perfectly with our ‘Big Garden’ service theme.
We left the church Saturday morning and made the journey from Elkhorn Hills to the Big Garden headquarters on the north side of Omaha. Matt was waiting for us, ready to start us off on another day. Matt started by leading a talk about the Big Garden operation and explaining the property features. We took a tour of the buildings, grounds, greenhouses, and storage facility. The sun was climbing in the blue sky, and it was time to put on gloves, roll up the sleeves, and get to work in the garden. The team weeded a large area of the gardens, and tied up some tomato plants. The garden was looking much better when we put our tools down and headed to the main building for lemonade. After a quick break, we planted some seeds.
We stopped to pick up sandwiches for lunch, and brought those back to the EHUMC. Matt met us back at our home base, and engaged us in a discussion about poverty, food deserts in the city, food justice, ethnicity, and prejudices. We watched a film called ‘Seeds’ which was a documentary about seed banks and people working in the world to preserve diversity in our food supply. It touched on topics such as corporate domination of seed markets and GMO. We then had a discussion about the film, including the benefits of GMO.
After the discussion, Matt took his final leave of our group and we wished him a fond farewell. We appreciated his enthusiasm for the Big Garden and passion for people and community.
After some quiet time, we reconvened at the church. Scott and Dallas picked up pizzas from Costco and we enjoyed them very much. Krista led a devotion discussion featuring scriptures themed around service and how God may work in and through us.
Tara took advantage of having us all together to finish some trip administration including evaluations and our future letters.