Sometimes, service begins in your own backyard.

Sometimes, service begins in your own backyard.

Unable to go on a summer mission trip this year because of restrictions related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the youth group at Rural Chapel United Methodist Church in eastern Berlin Township instead spent a week creating a garden on the church's property -- the harvest from which will be donated to food banks and other agencies.

"This is something we've never done before," said Mary Nelson, the church's youth pastor. "I don't think it was an easy adjustment for any of us. Our kids really enjoy the types of experiences we've had in the past, whether traveling out of town or spending a week serving with local organizations.

"But we're still serving, in a different way."

In March, when it became clear that travel was out of the question and many local agencies were not accepting new, short-term volunteers, Nelson approached church member Kay Coughlin, who had expressed a desire to start a community garden at the church but hadn't fleshed out what that might look like.

"I had this idea for a community garden and had talked to our church leaders about it," Coughlin said. "When Mary called to see if there was a way this could be done for the mission trip, I could see things coming together."

"All the kids still wanted to do something. We don't give up easily," said Cara Susey, 18, a 2020 Olentangy Berlin High School graduate and member of the youth group. "There was some disappointment that we weren't going to do something like we'd done in the past, but we just kept pushing and said, 'Let's do something.'

"This just felt right," Susey said. "It really worked out."

The week of June 1, 18 students and young adults spent around 175 total hours digging, erecting fences, building beds and benches, making signs and more at what's being called the Feed the Hungry Garden.

The week also included evening worship every day for the youth group.

"We have a great group of kids who will work hard if they have good direction," Nelson said. "They are resilient. You could see them become more and more excited as the picture of what this could be became clearer."

Coughlin's vision of a garden that not only would help feed those who need food but also provide "nourishment for people's souls" includes future phases that will make the garden fully accessible for people with disabilities, classes and workshops and, eventually, a full community garden at which people can rent a plot and work their own space on church grounds.

Meanwhile, this year's harvest of watermelon, spinach, tomatoes, peas, zucchini, carrots and more will be distributed to a variety of local food banks.

"We're not looking to create our own distribution network," Coughlin said. "Those things exist and work, so we're reaching out to places where the harvest can be donated."

Susey said she is excited to continue to be involved in the project, even as she heads off to college and the garden becomes an all-church effort.

"They've been grateful to have something to focus their energy on, and I'm grateful to see the garden become a reality," Coughlin said.

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