The Giving Garden: An OCLC Day of Caring

Kathleen Gesinger /

United Way Day of Caring

Every fall, the OCLC Seattle regional office has the opportunity to participate in our local United Way’s Day of Caring, an annual volunteer day dedicated to supporting local nonprofit organizations and the communities they serve. As a global library cooperative, we strive each day to make a difference in libraries all across the world, knowing that we are impacting the work of libraries and library staff who directly support the ever-increasing number of individuals each library serves. Whether through the technology that facilitates shared cataloging services and digital image collections, or programming around library staff development or public library awareness campaigns, Seattle staff are always eager to make a difference in the world and our own local communities.

Looking back over the last number of years, our past Day of Caring volunteer projects held a focus on early learning, youth literacy, or good old fashioned gardening and weeding. From organizing children's books by skill level at Youth Tutoring Program, storytime craft-kit preparation for the early literacy organization, PageAhead, gardening and facility clean up at two local Seattle branch libraries, or helping to fulfill and return (and even rewind!) books on tape for the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, we have focused our staff volunteer time to continue to support the many learning needs of our community.

This year, rather than focusing on the efforts of nourishing minds, we had the opportunity to focus on nourishing bodies. It felt like a great chance to cast our net a little wider and make a difference in a new way - knowing that hungry bodies of all ages have a tough time learning and achieving their potential.

The Giving Garden

We were lucky enough to support the great work of the Interbay P-Patch Giving Garden, an entirely volunteer run program that donates organically grown produce to Seattle food banks, meal programs and shelters. Stepping into this local P-patch was a true oasis, as we turned off of a busy industrial street that so many of us zoom right past during our busy commute. Less than one parking space away from that busy street, we found, instead, a calm lush garden open to the public. It was clear that good intentions and real community action flourished here. We were warmly greeted by our day’s coordinator and gardener extraordinaire, Mary Mills, who was passionate about gardening and providing fresh food and knowledge to our community.

While our project was focused exclusively on the Interbay P-Patch Giving Garden beds, the land allotted specifically as a part of Seattle’s Giving Garden Network, the lead volunteers at the Interbay P-Patch took us on a tour of the full garden, pointing out botanical nuances that were missed by so many of us during an earlier walkthrough. It was inspiring to see each garden plot throughout the P-patch, ranging from vegetables and late season berries to amazing, eye-popping flowers. From the many approaches to growing tomatoes in the Northwest climate, to casual conversation around what makes lettuce bitter, we gained new knowledge and appreciation of the hard work and dedication it really takes to feed family, friends and neighbors.

Our team learned that from April through October, volunteers meet every Tuesday at 5:30 pm to plant, harvest, weed, water, mulch, make compost and otherwise tend the Giving Garden beds, which produce about 3,000 pounds of organic vegetables every year, all of which is donated to help feed those in need. Generous P-Patch gardeners also donate produce they grow, and Interbay's annual donation total usually tops 4,000 pounds. Donating to area food banks and organizations, they provide a fresh option for those individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

Just as libraries have been busier than ever before, since 2008, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people going to food banks. By the end of 2010, people were using food banks in King County over 200,000 times each month. With this need ever present, it felt good to see the work going on so close to our office doors, and to be a part of supporting this organization by weeding, pruning, mulching and growing as a team.

Mutual Appreciation

As with so many volunteer projects, there is such a mutual appreciation that grows for each other over the course of even just one project. We were being thanked around each bend of the garden, and we were seeing first-hand the care and tending that goes into producing food for our community in most need. After a few hours of work in the garden, we were treated to one of the most amazing meals right there on the garden grounds. Lush greens and grains, fruits, cheese and bread. Our communal meal was proof that simple, fresh food really is the best answer to a hard day’s work.

It was so easy, then, to understand what keeps the strong group of core volunteers coming back, season after season, making sure that all in our community can find the nourishment they need and deserve.