Beth Tikvah Congregation volunteers grow vegetables for local shelter, food pantries
Wearing face masks and gloves and working in the pouring rain, members of Beth Tikvah Congregation in Hoffman Estates planted their annual garden May 17, which each year provides hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to WINGS domestic violence shelters and local food pantries.
The garden, called Gan Tikvah (Hebrew for "Garden of Hope"), was started in 2013 based on an idea from temple Social Action Committee members Merice Washer and Juliet Shavitz.
Volunteers from the temple's Men's Club built a few gardening boxes behind the temple's parking lot, next to Sycamore Park and Lincoln Prairie School. Then the Rothmann family of Lake Barrington donated money to buy and install a fence around the garden.
For the first few years, all the gardening work was done by just a few volunteers. Since the garden expanded three years ago -- to a 320-square-foot plot with nine large, in-ground boxes -- as many as 10 volunteers now plant, weed, water or harvest each week.
"We are small, but we are mighty," said garden co-manager Becky Fiedler of Barrington. "There are weeks when we harvest well over 100 pounds of vegetables. One week, we sent WINGS 40 cucumbers. When we harvest beets, we provide over 100 for at least two weeks."
The fresh, organic vegetables are needed and appreciated, said Ewelina Modrzejewska, a supervisor at WINGS Northwest suburban shelter.
Before Beth Tikvah began its donations, WINGS often had no vegetables at all for clients' meals, or maybe just some dried, canned or wilted produce. Now, they have an abundance of fresh vegetables during the summer months.
WINGS clients love when Beth Tikvah's garden deliveries arrive, because they like to sort, clean and cut the vegetables, and then research recipes based on what they have. The clients help prepare healthy, fresh food for themselves and their children while they're in the shelter, Modrzejewska said.
Sometimes, it's the first time they or their children have ever had fresh vegetables, and they benefit physically from the vegetables' healing nutrients.
"They come (to WINGS) thinking all we can provide is a roof over their heads, but then they see we have this fresh food and they're so happy. We appreciate it so much," Modrzejewska said.
Not only does the garden help local charities, it serves as a social space for temple members to gather and work while safely social distancing.
"It's a really nice way to get to know people," Fiedler said. "While we work in the garden, we're able to talk, catch up, and share what's happening in our own gardens."
Don Moos of Buffalo Grove manages the garden's volunteer schedule, and Susan Schwartz of Palatine coordinates the donations. Fiedler plans the garden every spring, purchases the seeds and plants, and speaks to WINGS about what types of vegetables work best for the families they serve.
Near the garden entrance, a bench stands in memoriam to garden co-founder Merice Washer, who passed away in 2017.
Gan Tikvah is just one of the activities done by Beth Tikvah's Social Action Committee, whose mission is Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for "repairing the world").
Funding for the garden comes from the temple's annual Chili Cook Off proceeds, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 17 this year.
"We're planting seeds to teach people within our congregation how to work together, and we're doing God's work by sharing it with other people," said garden co-founder Juliet Shavitz of Arlington Heights. "To be able to give people in need food that we've grown takes us back to our roots, of the way things used to be. Of how it's supposed to be."
The garden benefits everyone involved, Beth Tikvah Rabbi Taron Tachman added.
"It not only satiates physical hunger in others, it helps us harvest hope within ourselves," he said. "It reminds us that we can all provide a difference in the lives of others.