Other Lives: From Swamp to Surplus

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In a soggy patch, an answer to community hunger takes root

Sometimes the solution to a problem is right under one’s nose. Or, in the case of the Middle River Baptist Church, right in its backyard. Giving food to 20 to 30 families a week through its food pantry ministry, the church was having trouble meeting the needs of all the others who lined up at the building each week. Upon learning of the problem, Barbara Maliszewski, leadership development coordinator in the Adult Emergency Department, quickly saw a solution. She decided to plant and tend a 6,000-square-foot garden behind the church that would provide enough food to keep the families in the community fed.

“There are so many residents in the community who aren’t financially able to buy fresh and healthy foods and so few grocery stores to even buy from,” says Maliszewski. “I wanted to help feed those families.” She planted potatoes, onions, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, green beans, and other vegetables to give the neighborhood a feast of healthy foods.

With high school students, church members, Girl Scouts, and others coming out to volunteer on the project, Maliszewski grew to see the garden as an opportunity to teach the community about sustainability–something she lives and breathes as a nurse. “I could have planted the garden and just moved on,” she says. “But that wouldn’t help sustain anyone for the future. I taught all of the volunteers how to prepare the ground and plant the seeds. This way they can keep the food coming, maybe plant their own gardens, and hopefully begin to eliminate some of the hunger in the area.”

She also hopes that as the garden is replanted through the years, the wet soil surrounding it will become dry enough that children in the area can someday use it as a baseball field.

Maliszewski says the way she handles the garden is really no different from what she does at the hospital. “I could help my patients while they’re in the hospital, and then consider my work done. But that’s not where the job ends. I make sure each patient knows how to care for their wound or manage their stress before they leave. It’s important to provide them with the knowledge that will help them sustain their good health even after they leave the hospital bed,” she says.

Accomplishing more than one goal at once, Maliszewski was also able to use her work on the garden as a way to complete her senior project at Towson University, where she recently earned her master’s degree.

Just like the ones she planted in the swampy field, Maliszewski believes she plants a seed with each patient she cares for. “It’s all about providing them with knowledge,” she says. As for what she gets from the garden, Maliszewski says that though she thoroughly enjoys her work, the garden can provide a welcome respite.

“Working with students and volunteers of all ages is a nice step away from ‘normal life.’ I feel a great energy being outside with everyone, working together to make a difference.”

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