Though there has been an ongoing food insecurity problem in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a significant increase. In western Pennsylvania, congregations of the Catholic Sisters Leadership Council join more than 80 congregations of Catholic Sisters across the country in a national challenge to address food security during Catholic Sisters Week from March 8 to 14, 2021.
Together with their neighbors, the Sisters grow fresh produce in three gardens located on the 80-acre Baden campus, once a working farm. Sisters and community gardeners tend Miriam’s and Elizabeth’s Gardens, which were created in 2010 and 2012, respectively, to address hunger and the lack of affordable, fresh produce in Beaver County.
“Our ministries of ecology, spirituality, and justice really have the same goals: to build relationships, to offer physical and spiritual comfort, and to bring a sense of joy and hope to people,” Sister Sharon Costello, Congregational Moderator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden explains.
Between 2013-2020, the Sisters have donated 14,319 pounds of fresh produce to area food banks and soup kitchens. Chickens, part of the Motherhouse ecosystem since 2014, have also contributed 320 dozen eggs, a high-quality, affordable source of protein for our neighbors in need.
For the past three years, the Sisters have also boosted the efforts of local community gardens to feed their neighbors through their Sister St. Mark Garden Fund. The fund supports grants of $300-500 to help gardeners in Beaver and Allegheny counties purchase materials like tools, plants, and fencing, and improve structures, watering systems and accessibility.
The grants, which will support seven local community gardens in 2021, were shepherded from concept to creation by Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, a member of the Leadership Team. “By promoting sustainability in our neighborhoods, we are also building relationships among collaborators who share in our values and appreciate the bounty of Earth,” she says.
The 2021 Sister St. Mark Garden Fund Grant recipients include Sharpsburg Market Garden, which will purchase mushroom manure to nurture bigger and better vegetables for the community, which has no grocery store; the Little Free Pantry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Aliquippa, which will buy a shed to store supplies and equipment that are critical to growing fresh produce for those in need; and the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op, which will purchase seedlings to increase food security and improve healthy eating habits among African American women and children. Learn more about the seven 2021 garden grant recipients.
In addition to these efforts, the Sisters are conducting a congregation-wide food and financial collection during Catholic Sisters Week to support area food banks and meal distribution organizations in the places where our Sisters live and serve.
“We know that food insecurity was a critical need, even before the pandemic and that need has increased exponentially,” Sister Sharon reflects. “We’re so grateful to be able to partner with our dear neighbors to help those who are most vulnerable and suffering from food insecurity during this time.”