South Jersey Parish Beautifies Community

Rebecca Doel Around the Province

CAMDEN, N.J. — Ground was broken during a May 9 rally for a community garden here, celebrating a victory for St. Anthony of Padua Parish and Cramer Hill community.

The garden is an attempt to revitalize the neighborhood and fight against abandoned lots, which can be anchor points for such criminal activities as drug markets, prostitution, vandalism, graffiti, squatting, trash, illegal dumping and a constant strain on city resources.

According to a press release from St. Anthony of Padua, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 abandoned properties in Camden, 4,000 of which are controlled by the Tax Lien Finance Corporation.

The lot for the garden, located on the corner of River Road and 29th Street and near St. Anthony of Padua School, was previously occupied by “abandoned, graffitied police trailers,” said Lori Springer, development director at St. Anthony of Padua. Now, St. Anthony is teaming up with Camden Children’s Garden to develop the community gardens.

William “Jud” Weiksnar, OFM, pastor, said roughly 50 volunteers, including community members, Gerald Hudson, OFM, and University of Notre Dame alumni from South Jersey and Philadelphia, planted 10 large plots with tomatoes, herbs, flowers and other plants. The space has room for as many as 40 plots. Jud, a Notre Dame alumnus, is chaplain for the South Jersey Notre Dame alumni club.

The rally began with a prayer by a local pastor, followed by a prayer and opening words from Jud. St. Anthony’s director of youth and religious education, Mandi Aviles, gave a history of the garden project, followed by a few words from City Council President and St. Anthony parishioner Angel Fuentes.

The press release announcing the event included a quote from Fuentes that said, “To show our gratitude, I will have a commendation thanking St. Anthony of Padua for their initiative and support in beautification projects.”

Jerry, described by Jud as a master gardener, instructed the volunteers and gave a final blessing before the planting began.

“You wouldn’t think there’d be so much enthusiasm for gardening in a gritty urban setting such as Camden,” Jud said, “but in addition to graffiti, gangs and bodegas, our neighborhood actually has wetlands, deer and a bald eagle nest protected by the Department of Environmental Protection.”

Jerry and Aviles partnered with Josh Chisholm, executive director of Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP), on this and other community projects. Aviles and Chisholm coordinated the garden dedication.

The idea came from a British concept, where people tend sections of a community garden and are wholly responsible for its upkeep. Chisholm said in a Catholic Star Herald article that a person or group signs a plot agreement stating they must maintain the plots.

In addition to attending the garden dedication, John Coughlin, OFM, (shown at the garden dedication above) and the Notre Dame alumni groups participated in a service day at the parish. They built a closet in the church’s basement, painted two classrooms and a guidance office, prepared Francis House for tile-laying and painted outdoor railings and a fire escape. A young adult group from the Province’s St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., laid the tile in nearby Francis House the following weekend.

—Rebecca Doel is coordinator of communications for Holy Name Province.