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Ohio inmates grew 15,000 pounds of fresh vegetables that they donated to charity for hungry people

Mike working on the garden in Ohio

… great example of Christian charity

During the Covid pandemic, many people decided to grow vegetables in gardens so that they may have food that would not go through stores. It seemed safe to do so.

However, the unique part of this story is that an inmate at Grafton Correctional Institution in Ohio decided to ask authorities for permission to start a garden, with the vegetables to go to feed the hungry.

They approached the Diocese of Cleveland Catholic Charities to give them the tomatoes and lettuce and other veggies that could go to the poor.

This is a great story of kindness and Christian charity.


This is a story of 23 inmates who are now working together and have been since 2020 to grow vegetables that they donate to Christian Charities,

Mike, who like the other inmates asked that only his first name be used for this story, explained that it's important to take care of not just the tomatoes, but the zucchini, cabbage, peppers, lettuce, onions and squash he and a team of 23 incarcerated men are growing. They appreciate that the produce in their care is feeding hungry people at the Diocese of Cleveland Catholic Charities' pantry and meal programs.

"It's a way to give something back," Mike said.

It's Mike's third growing season, working in what started as a small garden in 2020 in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and expanding each year since. He enjoys the peace and tranquility the garden provides.

This year alone, Catholic Charities food programs at the Bishop Cosgrove Center in downtown Cleveland and St. Elizabeth Center in nearby Lorain have received 12,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. With the growing season set to last at least through mid-October, this year's 15,000-pound goal is within reach.

Dennis Sadowski, “Ohio inmates 'give something back' by growing produce for Catholic Charities,” National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2023

The benefits

Today, the people who are working hard in the summer to grow these vegetables are feeling good about what they are doing,

"We're told the people are appreciative of getting the vegetables," said Mike, who called himself a cradle Catholic. "People are getting fed. It also saves the diocese money."

The gardeners described other benefits as well: being outside, whether under the sun or in a soothing rain; gaining peace of mind; feeling relaxed and less stressed; and envisioning a future full of hope rather than anger and despair.

"The biggest thing is knowing we've fed so many people and to be part of something bigger than myself," Antoine, another gardener, said.

Dennis Sadowski, National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2023

The suggestion

How did this start? With a nun who was working for to help others,

The garden started modestly, with seven volunteers and a small plot that produced 1,300 pounds of vegetables.

Notre Dame Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, who was the diocese's secretary of parish life and development before retiring in August 2021, suggested to prison officials that a garden would help feed people at a time when supply chains were disrupted and people went out only when necessary.

Harwood, who joined the diocese in 1995, had overseen the development of a diocesanwide jail and prison ministry, which today has about 450 parish volunteers. Through her connection with Grafton's administrators, she was aware that the institution also had a tacking shop where men sewed a variety of products for the community.

When the pandemic hit, Jennifer Gillece Black, warden at the time, asked if the diocese needed anything specific from the tackers.

Unsure, Harwood approached Patrick Gareau, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. He told her the agency was running low on face masks. Harwood asked Gillece Black about making masks and the men quickly shifted into high gear.

At times, they worked 12-14 hours a day at the height of the pandemic, sewing about 49,000 masks by the time it ran its course. They were distributed to Catholic Charities staff and its program sites and then to diocesan schools, nursing homes and elsewhere, Harwood said.

She credited the correctional institution's administrators for "not only being cooperative, but they encourage the men to think of solutions and to think of ways that things can be done."

Dennis Sadowski, National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2023

This shows what Jesus said when he reiterated what God had said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

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