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Volunteer-run Lacy Garden fosters community, promotes healthy living

St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry shopper Donna delighted in the variety and freshness of vegetables she received during a recent pantry visit. “My family loves the tomatoes best,” Donna noted. “And it’s fresher than what I could get at the grocery store!”

Fresh is correct. Cabbages, broccoli, beans, tomatoes and more are grown at the Lacy Food Pantry Garden in Fitchburg. The vegetables arrive at the pantry the evening of their harvest and are distributed to clients within a day or two. The Lacy Garden, one of several food pantry gardens in Dane County, produces an average of about 18,000 pounds of fresh vegetables for the food pantry each year. It is the only pantry garden that provides produce exclusively to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry.

The Lacy Garden is run entirely by volunteers, with hundreds of individuals planting, weeding, watering and harvesting each year from April through October. Some volunteer as individuals or family groups; others come from area businesses or schools to work together for a good cause.

“My affiliation with Lacy Garden has been deeply satisfying,” said Peg O’Donoghue, Volunteer Coordinator for Lacy Garden. “It is a story of ingenuity, generosity and community.”

“Co-founders Ken Witte and Emmett Schulte devised a way of bringing nutritious produce to local food pantries nearly 25 years ago. Generosity from Phil and Winnie Lacy who donated farm acreage for cultivation 22 years ago, continuing to today. And it is community-built by volunteers, those who have served for many years and those who are just finding the Lacy Garden,” said O’Donoghue.

“It is a privilege to witness God’s Blessing each year,” affirmed Tom Parslow, Garden Leader. “And to watch these small seeds emerge, grow and mature into nutrient filled produce is a true miracle.”

Scholarships propel students Kareena and Juan Carlos and their families to pursue shared dreams.

Juan Carlos graduated from Madison East High School in 2019. Kareena graduated from LaFollette High School this year. Both know that a college education could help them escape poverty and allow them to assist their families which remain in need. But could they achieve their dreams of becoming the first college graduates in their families?

Every academic year, the Youth Service Council (YSC) of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul—Madison provides post-high school scholarships to area students whose families have lower incomes. In addition, the family of each scholarship recipient receives material support in the form of rent aid and grocery store gift cards.

YSC scholar Juan Carlos

Catholic high school students across Dane County join the YSC to share faith, fellowship, and opportunities for service with other area teens. YSC members say that raising money to provide scholarships for students who would otherwise have difficulty attending college is their most meaningful project each year.

“Tonight mattered,” explained YSC member Peyton, describing the group’s review of each application to determine how to allocate the funds raised to students in need and their families. “We gave money in a way that is tailored to each family’s needs.”

Kareena and Juan Carlos attest to the importance of the assistance for their families in addition to the help with tuition.

“Since I could, I’ve worked to make money to help my family,” Kareena shared. “This scholarship will help my family have money for rent and for food. That makes it a lot easier for me to focus on my studies.”

Juan Carlos lives with his sister and her family. His father died when he was eight, and his mother lives in Mexico. He agrees the added support helps him stay in college.

“I knew that I wanted to do more studying after high school, and it was going to be hard. I don’t have my parents with me. It’s hard to pay for college – it’s really expensive. The extra money for my family allows me to focus more and keep my mind off of money problems.”

Juan Carlos will complete the liberal arts transfer program at Madison College this fall, then plans to finish his engineering studies at UW-Madison. Kareena starts at UW-Madison this fall and intends to pursue studies in health science.

Both students are grateful to St. Vincent de Paul and the wider community’s support. They look forward to a brighter  future when they can help their families and community.