Community Action in Clearlake – More Room to Grow and Distribute Food
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
In August of last year, North Coast Opportunities opened a new Community Action office in Clearlake. This new facility at 14832 Lakeshore Drive also houses Rural Communities Childcare (RCCC). Other than being a new and modern space, the two biggest upgrades to the new facility are the community garden and the local food pantry.
The community garden located behind the building came to fruition after the generous donation of time and money by many organizations, especially Habitat for Humanity. Tammy Alakszay, Community Action Coordinator for Lake County, contacted Habitat to see if they were interested in helping with the garden. They immediately agreed. “We’re a community asset and we like to do this kind of outreach,” says Richard Birk, President of Habitat for Humanity Lake County. “Some of the people that use the garden and the food bank are probably some of the people living in the houses we build.”
After a few meetings and site visits, they went to work. Over the course of four days, Habitat staff and volunteers built huge raised garden beds and fencing to protect the garden, jumpstarting the project with a bang. “This isn’t your typical backyard garden,” says Birk. “It’s quite large and it took several days and a lot of hands to build.”
Once the raised beds were built, the California Conservation Corps filled those beds with 42 yards of compost donated by C&S Waste Solutions. Soon after, a watering system was installed by local volunteers using 8 boxes of miscellaneous irrigation supplies donated by A&B Collision. Since then, a core group of volunteers have been tending to the garden. These committed individuals have been installing gates, planting seeds and starts, watering, weeding, thinning crops, and harvesting the bounty.
NCO Clearlake has acquired seeds and plants through various sources, including by donations from the Hunger Task Force, local volunteers, and Lake County Master Gardeners. Over the winter, three beds were started with broccoli, arugula, beets, and garlic. The arugula has since gone to seed but the broccoli and garlic are going strong. The beets were recently harvested, and tomatillos and pumpkins were planted in their place. Currently, staff and volunteers are getting ready to put in 30 tomato plants. According to Alakszay, thanks to all the time, money, and supplies donated by local businesses and individuals, "This is truly a community garden.”
Although NCO Clearlake staff love the garden and work in it when they can, most of the work is done by volunteers. “We really want to stress that this is a community resource,” says Alakszay, emphasizing that anyone in the community can volunteer and benefit from the garden. “In exchange for a little labor, you can take home some of the harvest.” Whatever isn't harvested by volunteers goes into the other major addition to the new facility: the food pantry.
In the previous location, the “food pantry” was operated out of the back of a truck, with families coming to collect bags of food. Now, the pantry is a dedicated space in which families can come two Wednesdays a month and pick out the food they need, rather than getting an unknown grab bag of items.
Food comes to the pantry from all walks of the community. A generous donation from Rebud Community Health Care District enabled NCO to buy high-demand food items, and local hospitals have supported the pantry through food drives. Additionally, the Hunger Task Force and local farmers often donate produce, which supports NCO’s emphasis on providing healthy food.
With over 800 low-income families eligible to participate, the food pantry is a community lifeline. According to Jo Bennett, NCO Board Member, “We’re becoming the food hub in the community among people who need it.”
Although the building will be a year old in August, the dedication ceremony never took place. “We’ve been so busy doing this great work that we never officially dedicated the building,” laughs Alakszay. NCO Clearlake is finally planning an official dedication ceremony in August – a celebration of its one year anniversary.
Program(s) Involved: The Gardens Project