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Homegrown help
Local volunteers harvest produce for homeless shelter
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It’s good to get a little dirt under you fingernails.

Many local students and community volunteers have found this out for themselves while helping out in the vegetable garden at Rainbow Covenant Ministries’ Homeless Shelter on Turner Lake Circle in Covington. To date, volunteers have harvested more than 100 pounds of fresh produce for the shelter.

Doug Bolton, director of community service organization Hands on Newton, said work in "The Garden of Hope" began in January as a service project for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Around 200 local high school students, Oxford college students and other volunteers participated that day in preparing the garden for planting.

"We were targeting youth in this process," Bolton said, "to educate them about gardening and get them involved, so hopefully they’ll garden for themselves."

Wednesday, a group of young people from Hebron World Church’s youth leaders program harvested some of the produce and were treated to a feast in the cafeteria of the shelter. The menu included tomato sandwiches, corn on the cob and watermelon slices prepared by volunteers and "salad spice cake" prepared by Steve Cavazos of Saladmaster of Porterdale.

Crystal McLaughlin of Oxford College was on hand to thank everyone who has assisted with planting, pruning, fertilizing and harvesting as well as through donations.

"This project has involved so many different groups," McLaughlin said.

Participating groups include Hands on Newton, the Newton County Recreation Commission, Extension Office, City of Covington, Newton County, Snapping Shoals EMC Foundation, the Community Foundation, Porter Memorial Fund, The Newton County Community Partnership, Oxford College Office of Student Involvement, local high school students, the Young Legends of Washington Street Community Center, Youth Leaders from Hebron World Church, Project Adventure, the Department of Juvenile Justice and Georgia Perimeter College.

Special thanks went to Summer Workforce Investment Act workers DeAnthony Heath, Stephen Harris and Shavonda Rhodes who worked under the direction of Americorps volunteer Renee Jones as well as Bill and Gayle Norton, owners of Covington Rental, who lease the land for the garden to the shelter for $1 a year.

"We’re happy to be a part of it," Norton said after receiving an ear of corn from Wednesday’s harvest.

Nicole Rushin of the Potting Shed donated several hanging baskets to beautify the area around the garden.

Last, but not least, McLauglin thanked master gardeners Ferah Withrow and Ruth McDaniel for lending their expertise to volunteers during the growing season. Withrow and McDaniel have overseen the growth of tomatoes, watermelon, okra, corn, beans and peas. Both said it was a delight to introduce gardening to people, especially students.

"The DJJ kids that came out here saw what they planted grow and when they harvested it you could hear them say, ‘I grew that,’" Withrow said. "They took ownership in the garden."

McDaniel said it was remarkable to hear some student volunteers ask to stay longer or if they could return to help after their service as part of a juvenile court sentence had been completed.

"I think having a garden is very important," Withrow said, "for so many reasons."