Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach in Riverhead has a new garden for its guests to enjoy, full of vegetables, flowers, picnic tables and lounge chairs.
Last month, volunteers from the Grace Youth Program of Grace Presbyterian Church in Water Mill cleaned up and replanted the garden beds in the yard at Maureen’s Haven on Lincoln Street.
“They’re a wonderful group,” said Daniel O’Shea, executive director of Maureen’s Haven.
Youth group members also experienced what it was like to be homeless for a day. After spending hours putting together garden beds at the shelter, they showered at Indian Island County Park. Then they ate dinner and spent the night at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Aquebogue, sleeping on the floor on inflatable mattresses. The church houses Maureen’s Haven guests in the winter. The group of around one dozen volunteers returned to the garden the next day to finish tilling and planting.
The project was headed by Lesley Middlekauff of Grace Presbyterian Church and the students ranged from seventh to 10th grade. Last summer, she took a group of students to a service trip in Belize, and was looking for a service project locally this summer.
“I wanted to do something locally in our area, because you don’t just serve when you go overseas,” Ms. Middlekauff said. “There are things to do here in our community.”
She said she wanted to open their eyes and get them out of their comfort zone of their own homes.
“They got to experience what a homeless person in this area might go through,” Mr. O’Shea said. “It’s also a way for them to demonstrate their willingness to give back to the community.”
Maureen’s Haven received a donation from the Riverhead Rotary Club to buy cushions for chairs, seeds and a canopy. Other organizations also made donations, including Fowler’s Garden Center in Southampton, Halsey Farm & Nursery in Water Mill, Eastlands Nursery & Farms in Water Mill, Agway Country Gardens in Bridgehampton and East Hampton High School.
Mr. O’Shea said that in the fall, some guests of Maureen’s Haven will work on pruning, watering and harvesting in the garden.
“They can go outside and get some sunshine and be outdoors,” he said. “I know they’re outdoors a lot, but this is a place where there are some nice chairs and a canopy. Most importantly, it’s a safe space, where no one is going to tell them to move along.”
The center will also use the garden to hold meetings with guests when necessary, including social worker visits.
“We can go back there to the garden and they’re a little bit more relaxed,” Mr. O’Shea said.
“It a place for them to be welcome and comfortable, which is always a challenge for the homeless population out here — to find a place to be comfortable,” he added. “If they’re sleeping, they’re sleeping with one eye open, and always have to watch their backs for other people or law enforcement. For them, to even get rest is a challenge in and of itself.”
The goal will be to have a harvest toward the end of the season and hold some type of fall meal made from the crops grown in the garden. Extra produce will be donated to other charities.
“The thing that is so striking to me is the willingness and generosity of everyone that’s involved,” Mr. O’Shea said.
Maureen’s Haven also partnered with Slow Food East End, which helped develop an agricultural plan for the garden, including crop selection and plant placement for optimal growth.
Photo caption:The gift of a new community garden was given to Maureen’s Haven Homeless Outreach at the end of last month. (Rachel Siford photo)