Drive through Bethel Park and you’re sure to notice the lush garden prominently located at the corner of Park Avenue and South Park Road.
You may not realize it’s a community garden, operated by South Hills Interfaith Movement, that harvests more than 18,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to support the needs of three South Hills food pantries.
SHIM serves people who are struggling to put food on their tables, pay rent and utilities, afford clothing and household items. They come from Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and several other South Hills communities.
When the pandemic began, SHIM’s food pantries served 2,600 people monthly– about 1,000 more than before COVID. The pantries are now serving around 2,800 people per month.
Half of all pantry participants are refugee/immigrant families, many from Nepal and Bhutan. Thirty-five percent are children and 15 percent are over the age of 60.
The community garden program was developed in 2012 with the sweat equity of three volunteers tasked with building a garden from the ground up.
Becky Henninger, now the Community Gardens Manager for SHIM, started out as one of those volunteers. “For me, it’s very rewarding. This is my baby,” she said.
Over the years, the number of SHIM community gardens has grown to 13.
The Whitehall Peace & Community Garden is tended by immigrant families who grow whatever they want in their own raised bed. In return, they agree to tend the remaining 15 garden beds that grow produce for the Whitehall food pantry.
Planting in the SHIM community gardens is usually done in the middle of May. In addition to the basics like beans, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, pumpkins and peppers, you will find vegetables like Asian long beans and bitter gourd. “We give refugee families something that they’re familiar with as they try to assimilate into a new life,” Henninger said.
Early season crops like snap peas, kale and lettuce are harvested right away, while tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and beans are usually harvested in June. Peppers are due to be harvested this month.
Thanks to SHIM’s community gardens, visitors to their food banks receive “something that was literally grown yesterday,” Henninger added.
To learn more about South Hills Interfaith Movement’s programs and volunteer opportunities, visit www.shimcares.org.
List of SHIM Gardens:
Bethel Park – SHIM Offices
Whitehall Peace & Community Garden
Bower Hill Church
St. David’s Church
St. Joan of Arc
John McMillan Presbyterian Church
St. Thomas More Church
Lincoln Elementary School
Westminster Church/Upper St. Clair High School/Gilfillan Farm (partnership)
St. Louise DeMarillac
St. Clair Hospital (rooftop garden)