Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik is pleased to announce the success of phase two of the ‘’Cultivating Community’ initiative’, a collaborative effort focused on historic victory gardening and food security in the City of Reading. The ‘’Cultivating Community’’ task force, which consists of the City of Reading, DS Smith, the Food Trust, the Berks History Center, Reading’s Environmental Advisory Council, Berks Nature, the Berks Conservation District, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Berks County Master Gardeners, collaborated with Berks Community Health Center, Helping Harvest, Reading Housing Authority and the 18th Wonder Improvement Association’s Neighborhood Alliance to better serve the community.
On the morning of May 27th as Helping Harvest distributed fresh, frozen, and canned food to the people of Oakbrook through their Mobile Market, the Berks Victory Gardens Initiative gave away 106 gardening containers to families with children. Both distributions occurred at the 1040 Liggett Avenue offices of Berks Community Health Center (BCHC). Doctor Karen Wang, Director of Pediatric Services at the Oakbrook BCHC says on the project ‘’It is wonderful to see Berks Victory Gardens help families grow healthy foods right in their own gardens! Kids are more likely to try fruits and vegetables when they are involved in growing and cooking them.’’
The gardening containers were custom designed and donated by DS Smith, a Reading District 1 cardboard manufacturer. The Berks County Master Gardener program donated many of the plants and assisted with kit assembly. Soil was also donated by Giorgio Mushrooms. The May 27th distribution was the continuation of the effort, which began on May 11, 2020 at the 400 block of Penn St. when the task force distributed 75 garden boxes.
The 18th Wonder Improvement Association’s Neighborhood Alliance supplemented those boxes with bags to help the kids to take interest and ownership in growing their own food. These bags were filled with goodies from various entities including Aetna Better Health, Penn Street Market, Census 2020- Berks Complete Count Committee, The Philadelphia regional census center, United Way of Berks County (Live United Grant from the United Way of Berks County, Philadelphia Regional Census Center). Tanya Melendez, Ex-Officio Board Member of 18th Wonder Improvement Association, also adds ‘’It was a pleasure participating in this initiative. I hope we are able to engage the community in activities such as this In the future. The Vision and uncompromising commitment of this amazing group of people create a sense of unity and hope for the future.”
This Thursday, June 4th, in conjunction with opening day of the Penn Street Market there will be another garden box distribution. It will start at 10 am and be first come first serve. It will constitute Phase III of the Victory Garden Project for a total distribution reaching 250 gardens.
“COVID 19 has demonstrated how broken our Food Systems are. The collaborative effort we see here today for food security demonstrates how we can create change on a local level that educates, empowers, and enriches our community” states Councilwoman Sihelnik, a longtime advocate for sustainable communities. “When we can support our people, our planet and our profit (Local businesses/farms), we cultivate community”.