On a recent summer morning, before the sun grew too hot and while some shade was still in evidence, a small group of seniors donned special gloves and got to work in their garden. This wasn't a patch in one of their backyards; rather, it was a new community garden at the JCC's Raymond and Miriam Klein Branch in Northeast Philadelphia.
Though not the first garden of its kind, this one serves several purposes, noted Barbara Shotz, director of adult services at the Klein. It gives the seniors who till it a way to get some physical activity. And for those who don't drive, it offers fresh vegetables.
While the first of the pickings go to the volunteers themselves, some of the fruits of their labor will also go to others in need at the Klein, including to the Mitzvah Food Pantry there.
About a dozen regulars participate in the project.
Jeanne Joseph, the center's program and volunteer coordinator, and Barbara Ponczek, the center's counselor, who helped coordinate the garden, first visited other projects in the area to see how to make their garden as handicap-accessible as possible.
"I wanted to be a part of it," said Sara Lambert of her involvement with the garden. Despite a bad hip, she is able to work with the container-garden format -- with its raised beds and pots -- since it means less bending, and she can do certain jobs while sitting down. "I love coming here," added the 78-year-old.
The groundbreaking for the garden took place last fall. Last winter, a number of the senior gardeners took home seeds in little cups and small pots. The saplings were then planted in the garden starting this past May. Students from the Philadelphia Academy Charter School, located a short distance from the center, helped with the heavy digging to prepare the ground.
A start-up grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia paid for the fence that surrounds the 36x30-foot space and the above-ground containers. Fox Chase Farm, a nearby educational institution, which for several years has also given its extra produce to the center, donated seeds as well as gardening hints. The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging purchased two benches. In addition to private donations, the volunteers did a little fundraising -- selling jewelry and handmade knitted crafts -- to buy other necessary supplies, such as mulch and sprinklers.
Miriam Schupocheveci, 72, and her husband Mordhai, 75, were among the first to sign up.
"I like gardening; I have one at home," said Schupocheveci, as she spread mulch around the base of the plants and picked some fresh basil. She said that a lot of work had gone into getting the garden up and running -- "and now you see the results."
Flowers are also in bloom by the garden's entrance, and soon the volunteers will be able to partake of two kinds of peppers, several varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, squash and cucumbers. Herbs like sage, basil and oregano are sprouting around the perimeter, and the group has even received tips on how to add them to meals.
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