‘What we’re doing really matters’: Eudora’s Giving Garden blossoms from small plot into full-fledged nonprofit
photo by: Eudora Giving Garden
In 2018, a small group of business owners along Eudora’s Main Street started maintaining a nearby unused plot of land, turning it into a space for small-scale gardening.
About four years later, that small effort has blossomed into a full-scale nonprofit called the Eudora Giving Garden. It has now turned into a community garden and relocated to an entire acre of land, which it uses to provide food donations to a number of local agencies and educational workshops for community members and students.
The nonprofit’s board president, Mary Kirkendoll, told the Journal-World the Giving Garden’s growth began in earnest in 2020, largely stemming from the coronavirus pandemic pushing people toward outdoor recreation. The small group of business owners soon grew into a crew of eight people who now make up the Giving Garden’s board. It wasn’t long before they began cultivating the first version of the community garden, starting with produce and flowers.
“We had thought about shifting it to a community garden, and we were like ‘Now’s the time,'” Kirkendoll said. “We actually have the time, we can be outside. …We decided before we did it that we would donate all of the produce to senior citizens, just to give us motivation to continue getting out there and weeding, and so we planted a full garden, front to back.”
Kirkendoll said the group tried to keep their gardening practices as sustainable and organic as possible, a mission that continues today. Starting out, they met every Thursday for work days, and Kirkendoll said that’s really all it took to get the effort going.
After a year of relative success, Kirkendoll said the group had the opportunity to apply for some grant funding. They were successful in that pursuit and received $50,000 in grants, partially from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding. But that wasn’t all; around the same time, Kirkendoll said, Stephanie and Nolan Jones donated the use of an acre of land, the space the nonprofit calls home today. Another community member, Pam Staab, donated a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse.
“It was kind of a whirlwind,” the nonprofit’s marketing director, Laura Smith, told the Journal-World. “It was slow to start, and then boom, it just kind of exploded, which was amazing.”
One supporter offered solar panels, allowing the garden to run completely off of solar energy, and another donated bees. Today, Kirkendoll said the Giving Garden is functioning as a full-fledged nonprofit, complete with its board and one paid staff member — head grower Aman Reaka, who has been involved since the start.
photo by: Eudora Giving Garden
The nonprofit’s volunteer base has also ballooned, Smith said. Today, roughly 75 folks make up that base, including full families and businesses.
“That’s so amazing to watch,” Smith said. “I’ve said this before, I’ve said it’s so much more than a garden, and I don’t mean that to downplay the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears, that goes into what our head grower does. …My intention is to highlight the emotional bonds that go into it, the emotional growth that goes into it, the mental health that we help.”
The growth of the past two years has also allowed the nonprofit to broaden its scope. Some produce donations still go to local seniors at Eudora’s two assisted living facilities, but right now they’re going to the Feeding Eudora summer lunch program and soon will shift almost entirely to the Eudora Food Pantry.
From here, Kirkendoll said she hoped to see the Giving Garden become financially sustainable, which should be helped along by yearly fundraising events. The garden’s event for this year will be a Champagne Costume Ball Oct. 30 at Abe & Jake’s Landing in Lawrence.
There’s also a desire to grow the nonprofit’s educational outreach, Kirkendoll and Smith agreed. The garden has already hosted free educational workshops around once per month, but Smith said the hope is to go even further. She said eventually being a part of the curriculum at area schools would be a great step in that direction.
Another goal, Kirkendoll said, is continuing to show the community that the Giving Garden is serious about giving back. They may already have proven that, though, judging from the community’s reaction as the Giving Garden’s float was announced during a recent parade. Smith called watching parade-goers stand and applaud the nonprofit an “a-ha” moment.
“It was just so mind-blowing to me,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what we’re doing really matters.’ You feel that and you see that, but to actually get announced in your town’s parade that way and then have the audience react by giving you a standing ovation was just really cool, really humbling.”