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Emmaus Grove nurtures healthy outcomes

By LIZ ALLEN, Staff Writer

Sister Mary Miller helped to plant the seed for Emmaus Grove Urban Farm in 2013.

The garden grows and thrives thanks to two Master Gardeners who coordinate the site, volunteers who provide upkeep for the garden’s raised beds, and dependable benefactors, such as AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania.

As Emmaus Grove prepares to celebrate its 10-year anniversary with a Harvest Fest on October 1 later this year, the first since the start of the pandemic, we will provide a look at how Sister Mary’s idea for a bountiful garden adjacent to Emmaus Soup Kitchen springs to life every year. We’ll also explore the larger issue of food insecurity in Erie.

“Every year, Emmaus Grove is able to provide 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of vegetables to the Emmaus Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry. The produce is healthy, it’s fresh and it’s as organic as possible,” said Ellen DiPlacido, the garden’s volunteer coordinator along with Mike Bailey. Both are certified Master Gardeners through Penn State Extension.

Ellen and Mike were delighted when three representatives from AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania, which is based in Harrisburg, visited Erie recently to present the group’s annual $500 donation to Emmaus Grove. AmeriHealth Caritas is one of four managed-care providers for Medicaid clients in Pennsylvania.

“The AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania donation shows community support,” said Ellen. “Financial support certainly helps us out with some of the cost of maintaining and repairing things at the garden.”

Mike said Emmaus thrives because of support from donors such as AmeriHealth and because of the hard work of volunteers who “just support the whole concept of Emmaus.”

Volunteers water and weed the garden, repair raised garden beds, build new beds and harvest the produce at season’s end. You don’t need a green thumb to volunteer, but if you are a novice gardener, you can learn how to make your own garden more productive by working at Emmaus Grove, he said.

Volunteers work on Saturdays from 8 a.m. and until noon and on Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m. You can give as many or as few hours of your schedule allows.

AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania staffers visited on a day when the heavens opened up to provide much-needed rain after several weeks of drought. They traveled to Erie on a state-of-the-art “Wellness Center” bus, which is equipped with a wheelchair lift, an accessible restroom, a Murphy Bed exam table, a dental chair and a refrigerator to store blood draws. Renee Johnstonbaugh, Wellness Center Administrator, offered a tour of the bus to Emmaus staff and Grove volunteers, which also includes private cubicles to assist people enrolling in or renewing their membership in the Medicaid plan or who might need help with other financial difficulties, including overdue utility bills. Solar panels provide electrical power, with a backup generator.

But the real focus of the trip to Emmaus was to emphasize the role of AmeriHealth Caritas in providing health education to people who face food insecurity. In addition to Emmaus Grove, AmeriHealth also donates to gardens at the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, the Multicultural Community Resource Center and the Mercy Center for Women. All these gardens supply fresh fruits and vegetables –key to improving health outcomes–to those in need, according to Nancy Fahey, Director of Community Outreach for AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania.

Ellen and Mike, the volunteer coordinators for Emmaus Grove, credit Sister Mary for her vision to start Emmaus Grove on a lot next door to the soup kitchen. Solomon’s Porch Apostolic Assembly, at East 11th and Holland Streets, owns the property but agreed to Emmaus Ministries using it for a garden as long as the produce was tithed to those in need.

Sister Mary died May 14, before the garden got off the ground for this growing season. “We dearly miss her,” said Mike. “But we know Sister is watching.”

Photo: AmeriHealth Caritas Pennsylvania, based in Harrisburg, donates to four gardens in Erie, including Emmaus Grove, as part of its mission to help people live healthy lives. Those on hand when AmeriHealth Caritas visited Emmaus on June 14 included, left to right: Emmaus Grove Coordinator, Mike Bailey; Emmaus Director, Sister Val Luckey; Grove Volunteer and Master Gardener, Deb Totzke; Emmaus Administrative Assistant, Margaret Kloecker; Emmaus Grove Coordinator, Ellen DiPlacido; and AmeriHealth’s Senior Community Health Educator, Jaime McGuire.


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