Churches, community collaborate in spirit of Dr. King

Auburn public garden draws helpers on national holiday
By: Andrew Westrope, Journal staff writer
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A public garden on Lincoln Way was a planting ground for community understanding on Monday, as local volunteers gathered in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the message of solidarity it represents.

Members of several local churches teamed up with members of the city’s garden committee on Monday to make progress on the community garden behind the police station on Lincoln Way, formally known as the Susan Cooley Gilliom School Park Preserve Community Food Garden.

Following a holiday service at the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists church in Auburn, members and volunteers walked to the garden with others from First Congregational churches of Auburn and Loomis for an afternoon of teamwork. More than 70 people donated their time to the project at 10 different stations involving a variety of chores, from weeding to emptying compost bins to making prayer flags for a fence which has yet to be built.

The bulk of the chores involved moving 92 cubic yards of dirt, purchased at a discount from Robinson Sand & Gravel, into 28 plots to be rented out to the public in the future.

The Rev. Lynn Gardner of the Unitarian church said her congregation has celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in various ways over the past 20 years, generally anchored by a program at the church to celebrate Dr. King’s life and message, but this was the group’s first time at the garden. She and the Rev. Wendy Bartel contacted Katy Fries of the garden committee in early November, asking to use the garden as the church’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day service project.

“I said that we were organizing a community event in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and we wanted a service project as part of that, because today is a national day of service. We wanted something that could be multi-generational … we wanted a project that was local, so we could walk … and we wanted a program that fit with our values, and the community garden does,” she said. “The focus of the event is to be able to honor the life and work of Dr. King, and part of that was collaboration and connections … And we don’t believe that the justice that we want to see is going to be possible with one or two people working. It’s going to take a whole bunch of people.”

Youth Director Mariah Callison of the United Church of Christ said she and other members of her church pitched in on Monday because actions speak louder than words, especially in collaboration.

“This idea of all these churches coming together to work to make the world a better place I think is what Martin Luther King wanted us to do,” she said. “And he believed it could happen. He knew it was going to happen.”

Community garden manager Dave Chappell said the community garden is about 12 years old and sponsored through grants and donations, but it has only recently started to see real progress, and he hopes it will have a grand opening in June. He credited Gardner, Fries, and garden committee member Tanya Hibbard with coordinating Monday’s event.

Hibbard also praised the group of people getting their hands dirty with good work, in keeping with the spirit of the garden and the holiday – the spirit of growing something together.

Gardner was noncommittal about next year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day project, but she had hopes for the legacy of this one, and the spirit of the holiday itself.

“I wouldn’t want to speak for next year’s event. I can see that there’s a lot of energy for (the garden project), and I think that some of these people will also remain connected with the garden,” she said. “Dr. King had a vision and a dream of equality and justice, and while some headway has been made on that, we’re still a long way. So part of this day is reminding people where we are … Part of today is the conversations that are happening, the kids climbing on the dirt piles and people meeting one another, people who are from different parts of Placer County, people who attend different congregations, and realizing that when we come together we can make such a difference.”