Members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church have found a silver lining since the devastation of Hurricane Laura nearly two years ago by discovering a way to nurture both souls and bodies within their community.
Reverend Tim Norris said on the remains of what was their church’s sanctuary now lie the beginnings of a community garden as well as a small red pantry.
“We have five acres that need to be mowed and that turns a liability into an asset,” Norris said with a laugh.
Tended by Norris and two other members of the congregation, the trio already have tomatoes, zucchini, yellow summer squash, eggplant, okra and peppers taking root.
“Right now we’re keeping it in a 15 by 15 foot space, but hopefully others will want to come and learn how to garden and help us make it thrive,” Norris said.
Adjacent to the vegetable garden is a separate flower garden designed to attract pollinating insects.
“Between the three of us, what we have is enough to keep us busy,” Norris said of the first phase of planting what he hopes will eventually provide enough bounty to feed the neighborhood and help stock United’s shelves. Way of Southwest Louisiana. and Abraham’s tent.
“We want to involve and interest the community and other churches involved and interested and maybe in a few years we will have an urban farm between all of us,” he said. “I have homework to do because I want to be realistic.”
Norris said a feasibility study showed it would take about $300 for every $100 of vegetables the church initially produces.
“But it’s so worth it,” he added.
The garden is located in what was once the corner of the sanctuary where the organist, pianist and keyboardist sat during Sunday services. The building was demolished shortly after the storm and the church has been meeting ever since inside their fellowship hall, which needed only minor repairs and served as a distribution site for food and supplies while residents were returning home following mandatory evacuation orders.
Norris said the space feels a bit cramped at times, but their plan is to wait two or three more years — when more contractors become available — before beginning the rebuilding process. They also plan to construct a multi-purpose building that would serve as both a sanctuary, a hurricane shelter, and a meeting place for community members.
“It was quite difficult to see the shrine destroyed,” he said. “It was a very, very beautiful shrine and seeing it destroyed was heartbreaking. A lot of people didn’t realize how bad it was.
He said a former member of their church who passed through town after Hurricane Laura stopped at the site to mourn the building that was the setting for so many of his childhood memories.
“She grew up here and had a lot of memories and it was hard for her – and for a lot of other people too – to see the building now gone. She just sat in the parking lot and cried,” he said. “But now we have a clean slate, a blank canvas and we are going to start something new.”
Norris said he spent time with community leaders about the need for such a garden before turning over the land.
“Quite regularly they have talked about food shortage issues in this area, otherwise it is a food desert,” he said. “That’s one way to approach it. It’s just a start, but hopefully everything will go well and we can start planning for expansion.
Norris said he plans to apply for grants that would allow him to do just that.
“Our denomination has dedicated funds to enable us to further explore this and design our mission and ministry to meet the needs of the community,” he said.
The church’s small red pantry has also been set up in the church parking lot to help those “falling through the cracks”.
“It’s for transients, the homeless, or those who need a few things to feed their family dinner when the food stamps run out,” he said. “It’s there for people to help themselves. We also have people stop and put things in there and we put tomatoes in there and they don’t last long before they’re gone.