Garden's mission is to ease hunger

P.J. Johnson and Pastor Russ Hilsinger survey the site of Grace Baptist Church's community garden.

DALLAS - Grace Baptist Church of Dallas has always had a mission. For the past few years, the church has raised money to fill a truck full of supplies and drove it to a village in Oaxaca, Mexico.

But this year, the church's mission is closer to home.

"Every 30 minutes, someone walks into the Dallas Resource Center and asks for help. When I heard that, I knew God was trying to tell me something," said Pastor Russ Hilsinger. His church decided to make Dallas its mission field.

The small church on Ellendale Avenue has about 70 members, but they are making big plans. They're planting a garden with hopes of raising 1,000 pounds or more of vegetables and fruit for the Dallas Food Bank. The food bank is a program of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, also known as the Dallas Resource Center.

But missionaries are evangelical by nature. Grace Baptist Church is challenging other churches to meet or beat their donation of fresh vegetables and fruit to the Dallas Food Bank.

"We've been blessed with this land," Hilsinger said of the five acres that sits between his church and the drive-in movie theater. "We think other churches can do this too."

The whole idea delights P.J. Johnson of the Dallas Resource Center. She had originally asked Hilsinger if his church members could help tend the Dallas Community Garden, a small plot of land next to the Dallas Aquatic Center from which the center hopes to gather produce. Hilsinger, whose members had already grown a bountiful garden the year before, suggested that instead, his church could grow its own garden for the needy and challenge other churches to join them. Johnson loves the idea.

"It's hard enough for some parents to afford food, let alone fresh produce for their children," Johnson said. "These kids just don't get the nutrition."

Last year, on less than a quarter-acre, Grace Baptist Church members grew beans, peas, corn, squash and other crops - canning much of it for members and others who needed it. This year, they plan to expand and plant more.

Local farmer Dan Smith is donating equipment and time to till the soil. The church is paying for the water, and mem-bers are volunteering to tend the garden.

Churches who are interested in joining the competition can call Johnson at Dallas Resource Center, 503-623-8429.

In addition to church gardens, Johnson also needs:

Tax-deductible donations, which can be made to the Resource Center at 326 Main St., Dallas, or the church at 1855 E. Ellendale Ave., Dallas.

Gardeners who can help plant, weed or water the Community Garden.

Expert advice on what to plant and how to care for the gardens, and how to can and store produce.

Home gardeners who want to join the challenge.

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