9-2-2 Initiative plans community garden and food pantry projects

9-2-2 Initiative plans community garden and food pantry projects

Image Credit: Teri Stein

The 9-2-2 Initiative is made up of people committed to their community. The group started prior to the pandemic at a time when Tuscarawas County was experiencing an opiate crisis. The 9-2-2 Initiative originated through the Addiction Task Force and Empower Tusc.

“We looked at the areas in general, and Uhrichsville had a very high rate of overdoses and overdose deaths,” said Diana Smith, who spearheaded the committee to bring the taskforce to the area.

For Smith, a longtime area resident, giving up on the people in her community is not an option. She also serves as vice president of the Twin City Chamber of Commerce and is employed at SpringVale Health Centers working in case management and outreach.

The 9-2-2 Initiative looks for ways to help Uhrichsville and Dennison too.

“We don't want to just come in and say, ‘Hey, this is what we're gonna do.' We come in and say, 'Hey, what can we do? How can we help you guys? How can we bring information in?' So over the last year or two, that's what we've been doing. It's made a huge impact,” Smith said.

The 9-2-2 Initiative has set up at Dennison Railroad Days, the Fall Festival and area stores to distribute information on how to beat addiction and make people aware of the resources available to get their lives back. They’ve also distributed Narcan kits to people in the community.

Smith is excited about the group’s new project — a community garden.

“Everyone wants to know what the community garden has to do with prevention and treatment, and I'll sum it up. When you have kids that are living in a house where they're seeing their parents use drugs, they're seeing their parents drink, then the kids are pretty much being neglected,” Smith said. “They're not being taught everyday behaviors — and to them, using drugs as a learned behavior. The older they get, they think that's common. So as a committee, we want to break that learned behavior. And we want to give the kids something to be proud of.”

The group hopes the garden will provide a place for the entire community to come together. They want to help people who don’t have the backyard space to garden or the ability to garden on their own.

Smith thanked Mark Haney, mayor of Uhrichsville, and the city council for providing the lots for the garden. The property is located along Newport Avenue just off Trenton Avenue and across the street from the area where a dam was removed from the Stillwater Creek.

Besides edible plants, plans also are in the works for a sensory garden and a remembrance garden. They also have plans to develop a butterfly garden.

“(Children will) be able to have things that they can touch, things that they can smell, different things that they can interact with,” Smith said. “We're going to have a section that's going to be for remembrance, where if you lost a loved one, we encourage you to come down and plant a flower in remembrance of your loved one.”

The project is being funded with donations only. Items needed include lumber for the raised bed gardens. With the area being in a flood zone, nothing is going to be planted directly in the ground.

“We're doing raised beds with fresh dirt. We want to make sure that everything is up to standards and there's no contamination,” Smith said. “So if anyone wants to donate lumber, dirt, stone for walkways, if they want to donate their time to come down and help us when it comes time for planting, we would love any help whatsoever.”

Anyone may help plant the community garden, but all the plants and produce are for the community.

The 9-2-2 Initiative hopes the entire community gets involved with the garden. They envision an organization can use some of the produce to hold a canning class, the library could hold activities there and many other events to connect the community.

Two of the community partners are preschool students from Immaculate Conception School who are going to start some of the seeds for the project, as are residents at Claymont Health and Rehab Center. The groups plan to have a field trip to the garden to plant their seedlings.

Bringing the community together for the good of everyone is a goal.

“If someone is lonely and they just want some place to go, we can have a couple benches down there,” Smith said. “And maybe we can break that learned behavior and show there's actually something else to do besides drugs. Instead of going out and vandalizing, there's other stuff to do because I can be proud of what I'm doing here.

“If the kids are not getting what they need from home because of the home situation, then maybe they can get it from the community. It takes a town to raise a kid. It takes a community to grow a community.”

The Uhrichsville community garden is a pilot project, and if it works, the group plans to place another community garden in Dennison next year.

The group recently decided on a red box program to help the community too.

Smith was surprised to learn of the red box free food pantries located at the Salvation Army in Dover and New Philadelphia. A red box is a mini food pantry containing nonperishable food that is available 24/7. It’s a project that could come together quickly.

“I didn't know this until I started my job as a case manager and one of my clients said, 'Hey, can you take me to the red box,'" Smith said.

The client directed Smith to every red box. “I was blown away. It made me think, 'We've got homeless or less fortunate in the Uhrichsville and Dennison area.' Ordinary people can fill it out. Businesses can fill it, and people can come and pick out what they need.”

The client told Smith they depended on the red boxes for food.

“If the community could come together and make sure these red boxes are full, how many families and how many kids could that benefit,” Smith said. “I’m excited about the red boxes. Because it's, literally, a box with a door.”

The group is looking for donations of lumber to get the project up and running. They are an all-volunteer organization, so new members are welcome too.

Taking on problems in the community is a labor of love.

“This is my area. It’s my pride. It’s my joy. I love the area, so I’m going to do what I can,” Smith said.

Call Smith at 330-407-2484 or email her at dsmith@springvalehealth.org.

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