On a sunny Friday morning in East Naples, more than 30 members of the community, alongside residents and leaders of St. Matthew’s House, gathered to celebrate the newly planted Garden of Hope.
What started out as a community vegetable garden project by friends Steve Kitchen, Gordon Skrede and Matt Steves, to serve residents of the St. Matthew’s House, is now a vision that keeps giving after every harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables for the homeless population in Collier County — where many residents are parents with young children.
“In the summer of 2009, Steve Kitchen worked with the Home Depot to get the entire project together piece by piece. Then I was working at the front desk of the Marriott, and in 2011, the project took on a life of its own, as the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club and Spa staff volunteered and took over in replacing and replanting after the harvest,” explained Steves at the dedication ceremony.
His roommate, Javier Lopez, painted a colorful cornucopia with fruits and vegetables flowing from its interior, to give the Garden of Hope a permanent sign marking a continued effort within the community.
Every day, in the new Garden of Hope, St. Matthew’s House residents arrive early to tend crops, pull weeds, balance watering, rake new soil, and conquer any pests that come to forage on new plantings. It’s a daily task residents find uplifting, and it shows in their eyes as they deliver fresh picked fruits and vegetables to St. Matthew’s kitchen, where there is a full-service catering business operating.
For Lisa Ellison, director of development at St. Matthew’s House, the Garden of Hope has arrived just in time for residents.
“It provides food for us to provide to people in need. We’re keeping them off the streets, and it’s working through God’s will. It’s providing a way for them to get better. We’re look forward to people coming in to tour the facility, and get involved with the Garden of Hope, and any project they want to be a part of here,” Ellison said following the dedication.
Marco Island City Councilman Wayne Waldek was grateful to the shelter’s catering service for a recent fundraiser dinner with his Knights of Columbus Council at San Marco Catholic Church. Waldek toured the Garden of Hope and the entire campus to know, first-hand, what residents face every day.
“Anything I can do for them, I’ll do,” he said, when asked if he’ll be returning to the Garden of Hope to volunteer.
Offering time and donations of seeds, Savannah Landry, of the Marco Island Marriott’s Spirit to Serve Committee at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort Golf Club and Spa, remembers her late husband Randal Landry’s generous spirit in developing the Garden of Hope.
“Randal Landry helped coordinate the donation of seeds, and helped in donating tomato, watermelon and pepper plants for the garden,” she remembered of her late husband’s generosity.
“Through Spirit to Serve, this is one of many projects we do in the community. This year, we’ve raised over $20,000 for Habitat for Humanity, Friends of Rookery Bay, Toys for Tots, and Friends of Rookery Bay, and this garden we harvested three times so far,” said Chris Major, manager of the Rookery Golf Course. “It’s always changing depending on the seasonality of plantings. When it comes to Spirit to Serve, it’s all about community and social responsibility.”
If You Go to volunteer at the Garden of Hope:
St. Matthew’s House
2001 Airport Road South
Naples, FL 34112