By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – The vegetables in St. Frances Cabrini’s community garden boxes might not multiply as quickly as the legendary loaves and fishes, but the harvest will soon provide fresh produce for those in need.
Eagle Scout candidate Ben Trela, 17, of Allen Park, of Boy Scout Troop 1052, a recent graduate of Cabrini High School and a parishioner, was approached last fall by Karen Carmody of Allen Park, who had been growing produce in a courtyard adjacent to the elementary school, where about 6 inches of soil covered a former concrete parking lot.
Carmody suggested constructing planter boxes, popular in community gardens, to allow for deeper soil to support more crops. Being at waist level, the box elevation makes it easier to weed and harvest.
“Older parishioners who might be retired and have some spare time, they can spend a couple hours weeding and kind of digging around and playing in the dirt without worrying about their backs bothering them,” Trela said. “Also, if families want to come out and spend time, they don’t have to worry about their kids stepping on any of the plants, because that had actually been an issue. It also gives more room for the plants to grow.”
Trela launched his fundraising drive at Cabrini’s four masses Memorial Day weekend this year, speaking to the congregation about his proposed community garden boxes, and was overwhelmed by their generosity.
“The community responded in a way that continues to amaze me,” Trela said. “In just the first mass alone (5 p.m. Saturday) parishioners contributed almost a $1,000 toward the project. As I spent more time here, that number grew to about $3,000.”
Material donations worth more than $2,400 from local businesses also helped him construct the planter boxes, Trela said, and a private donor then covered the cost of the dirt that exceeded the remaining funds.
He said recipients who select produce directly from the garden are encouraged to spend a few hours weeding and watering when they are able.
“As long as you can respect what other people may need, and what other people are putting into it, I can only see it as a situation where everyone wins,” Trela said.
Onions, corn, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, broccoli, several types of lettuce, celery and carrots are growing in the garden.
He hopes to donate any excess produce to a local soup kitchen or food pantry.
Trela said he was overwhelmed by the generosity, support and volunteer help he received.
“We had five building days, and we had enough people to just crank through everything,” Trela said. “It’s truly amazing to step back and look at everything. I organized this, but it was truly a group effort.”
He said they moved 80 cubic yards of dirt in two days.
“For me, a 5-foot 5-inch scrawny little man to think, ‘Wow, I have to move 80 yards of dirt,’ it’s crazy,” Trela said. “But when you get 10, 15 people here we flew through it. I was running out of places to tell people to go as I was stapling the fabric inside the boxes. It’s just amazing to step back and see we did this in such a short time frame.”
His parents, Joe and Nancy Trela, have watched their three older sons become Eagle Scouts, so Eagle candidate Ben is poised to make it a quartet. They said their daughter joined the family in many Scouting activities over the years.
Joe Trela said he is very proud of Ben’s work and effort.
“The effort and the actual get-up-and-go to do it is always a big deal,” Joe Trela said. “It’s just taking that first step. I am proud of the job that he did on the project. It puts a smile on my face.”
Nancy Trela said she is also proud of everything Ben has accomplished, and the short time frame in which he accomplished it.
She credits the Cabrini community with instilling the importance of service to others into their children.
“Our kids were raised in a community of givers, and a community of sharers,” Nancy Trela said. “Community service is not anything new. Service is placed in high emphasis.”
Ben Trela said while growing up, they were encouraged to pass on to others what they had to spare as well as volunteer their time.
“We have four ‘give away’ bags going in our house right now,” Ben Trela said. “My brothers and I were all active in mission trips and service projects outside of school. It was something that we were taught and learned on our own.”
Carmody said Ben Trela is very involved in the church, school and community.
“When he and I connected about doing the boxes for the church garden, it just seemed like such a perfect project because it would be a standing tribute to his legacy at Cabrini,” Carmody said. “He will graduate and move on, and do bigger and better things, but those boxes will continue to help people for years to come.”
She said she hopes the project will inspire other Cabrini students.
“Many of the classroom windows look out into that courtyard,” Carmody said, “so when kids look out the window, they see the church garden, what he’s done, and the plants growing, they know a student did that. I think that’s just an awesome testimony that the success of our parish isn’t just what the adults do.”
Scoutmaster and project adviser Stephen Witberg said he is proud of Ben’s contribution to the community through his project.
“This is something that can give back to the community every year,” Witberg said. “Times have been tough lately, so every little bit helps.”
Ben Trela said he also forsees the project having a long-term impact.
“I can truly see it being a ‘How can I do more?’ kind of thing,” he said. “A ‘How can I come out here and continue to help others while also getting what I might need for my family?’ kind of situation.
“Seeing people close to me going through some of that financial struggle and just needing a little bit of help, I can be sure in my own heart that this is going to be the kind of thing that benefits a lot of people for a very long time.”