Henderson resident Alex Ramirez could’ve chosen many activities to occupy his Saturday morning.
What the 9-year-old did was grab a shovel and help volunteers prepare the East End community gardens located at Washington and Holloway streets.
Ramirez told The Gleaner that he likes gardening because, “It gives poor people food to stay healthy.”
This project was just one of many taking place in the community on Saturday as part of Henderson’s annual City Serve Day.
Hundreds of volunteers, including several local churches and organizations, dispersed to locations such as Riverview School, South Heights and Jefferson elementary schools, Central Learning Center and various community parks to take on projects involving anything from landscaping to picking up trash.
Henderson’s City Serve Day was held in conjunction with another City Serve Day, which also took place Saturday in Evansville.
Melodie Schrader, who organized the City Serve project at the community gardens, said, “This is our third growing season.”
“The front beds are for the community. Today we’ll hoe them up and plant them,” she said. “Everybody in the community who wants to can pick (produce from the front beds) which is free to the community. The back beds are assigned to neighbors who live in the area. They plant the beds and maintain them. They can donate the food or use it to feed their families. I know one lady who lives around here, came and picked a fresh salad every day, which is really neat.”
“We have some wonderful volunteers,” Schrader said. “Alex, he’s one of our neighbors. He and his family have a box in the back. This is his third season with us. He had his own box the first season. When we started this, it was really the first green space that had been around for a while, and the kids came out in droves.”
Audra Pirtle, a master gardener and City Serve volunteer, also spent several hours of her day at the community gardens.
“Today we’re planting tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, some herbs and goji berries. I hope we can do more of this in our city,” she said.
“I think (a community garden) is good thing to be able to help our community, to teach people where our food comes from and afford everybody the opportunity to have fresh food on their table.”
Henderson resident Stacey Vaughn also pitched in at the gardens Saturday.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m picking weeds because I don’t have a green thumb.”
“I’d love to learn to plant flowers and keep them alive,” she said.
Vaughn said the project has brought back a lot of great childhood memories of gardening with her parents and grandparents.
“City Serve Day is important for the community to come together, work together and realize the importance of each other,” she said. “I feel like people don’t talk to their neighbors anymore or communicate with each other. I think it’s good to get everybody together.”
Ryan Nunn, team leader for City Serve Day, said, “We want to make our city better, by serving our city. Aesthetically, we’re going to some under-resourced schools such as South Heights and Jefferson and doing some landscaping. That helps give the students some ownership of their campus, and then we can be a presence and support for our local schools.”
The team being led by Nunn not only picked up trash in the East End, but also took note of graffiti and “potentially dangerous properties.” The information will be passed on to city workers so the graffiti can be cleaned up and decisions can be made regarding abandoned and dangerous structures.
“We have a lot of teams out. It’s not just churches, it’s organizations too, coming together to engage our city. It’s a movement and we’re just trying to be part of it,” Nunn said.
“The message is, whether we’re churches or organizations, we want people to see that we’re doing what we can do to build a great city … we’re taking our city seriously.”
“What makes a great city is doing everything we can do to guarantee our kids success … If we’re doing our part to make sure the next generation can succeed, that’s part of building a great city,” Nunn said. “I think cleanups and work days play a role in that because we’re showing the kids that this type of thing matters.”