Dec. 24, 2010
As part of its "Gift of Giving" series, The Charlotte Observer today profiled the gardens that, it said, "Friendship Trays hopes one day will not only nourish the bodies of Charlotte's homebound residents, but also their souls."
Click here to read the Observer's story at their website. If that link is unavailable, the story is below.
Posted: Friday, Dec. 24, 2010
Behind an ordinary-looking office building near South End, a whimsical vegetable garden is sprouting that Friendship Trays hopes one day will not only nourish the bodies of Charlotte's homebound residents, but also their souls.
A sign above the entrance, fashioned from forks, knives and spoons, welcomes visitors to "Friendship Garden." Inside, collard greens, radishes and a variety of pungent herbs poke through the hard, cold soil of winter. An old wringer washing machine is retrofitted as a fountain. Colorful children's paintings sway in the breeze.
The garden and seven others around the city are the latest venture for Friendship Trays, which depends on volunteers for much of its outreach. For 34 years, the meals-on-wheels program has fed people of all ages who can't leave their homes or can't cook for themselves, on average 750 people every weekday.
Since 1998, it has partnered with the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. The school provides students who help cook the meals and, in the sautéing and baking, learn a marketable skill.
The garden project began, like many things in life, with a seed.
First the seed of an idea. It costs about $1,170 a year to feed one person five times a week and though some clients pay for all or part of the cost, most can't afford to. Maybe if Friendship Trays grew some of its own food, not only would homebound clients enjoy fresh produce, the gardens might help cut food costs. Slow Food Charlotte won a $70,000 grant from the Women's Impact Fund for the project.
Then came the vegetable seeds themselves. Thousands of seeds: tomatoes, squash and pepper seeds ... turnip, lettuce and kale seeds. ... Inmates at Mecklenburg County Jail North plant them in a greenhouse there and tend the seedlings until they're ready to be transplanted into the gardens, where volunteers take over, weeding and watering and harvesting.
"Then the vegetables go to Friendship Trays to be cooked by a Community Culinary student, then delivered by a Friendship Trays volunteer to an individual who is homebound," said Henry Owen, who oversees the gardens and teaches culinary students about growing vegetables. "So all the people on this chain are benefiting from this one plant."
One inmate started seeds, Owen said, that grew into plants that eventually helped feed his mother.
"We're never going to have Friendship Trays totally independent of any other food service," Owen said, "but we can significantly impact the type of food we serve."
And Lucy Bush Carter, executive director of Friendship Trays, hopes that one day the gardens will significantly impact food costs, too. She said the agency hopes to create a signature garden with several acres somewhere in the city that will do just that.
Around 1,300 volunteers help work in the gardens, package meals and deliver them.
People like Ted Lucas, a retired pediatrician who is 81 and has been delivering meals for at least 20 years. He got involved as part of a project of Myers Park Baptist Church and he kept on.
"They really do look forward to seeing us coming," Lucas said about the recipients. "I feel like it's something that's much appreciated."
Carrie Grier appreciates it. She's a retired nursing assistant who is homebound. Although the food is important, she looks forward just as much to the volunteers who bring it.
"All kinds of people," she said. "I got a psychologist. I got a pharmacist. I got an accountant. I haven't met a grouchy one yet. If you don't feel good, if they see you don't look like you're supposed to look, they will wait until you give them a phone number so they can call a family member. They deserve the Jefferson Award, a pat on the back."
And Friendship Trays believes Carrie Grier and other homebound residents of Charlotte deserve fresh tomatoes in summer and fresh collards in winter.
Creating local, renewable nutritious food resources for meals-on-wheels recipients
An Initiative of Slow Food Charlotte and Friendship Trays, Inc.
Friendship Trays, 2401-A Distribution St. Charlotte, NC 28203 voice 704-333-9229 fax 704-333-5947
Meals-on-wheels in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC
Delivering, in a caring and friendly manner, balanced meals to individuals in this community
who are unable, because of age or infirmity, to obtain and prepare their own meal
Friendship Trays is a 501(c)(3) organization. Employer ID #56-1201496. Financial information about this organization and a copy of its license
are available from the State Solicitation Licensing Branch at 919-807-2000. The license is not an endorsement by the State.