Photos By Addy Rogers
Gray Wilking is outfitted in a long-sleeved flannel shirt, rain pants and hiking boots, despite the fact that it’s only 9 a.m. and almost 80 degrees. On this particularly sunny day in October, her job involves leading a small group of Pepperdine volunteers through freshly planted rows of asparagus, citrus trees, green beans, beets, sugar peas and snap peas, which will soon be harvested and then distributed to senior citizens in the surrounding community.
Wilking points to a few remaining asparagus stalks sticking straight out of the earth and identifies them as the last few survivors of the season. Come Thanksgiving fresh green beans will be ready for salting and seasoning, that is if they stay out of sight from the family of gophers.
Wilking has been project manager for the Ventura County Senior Community Garden for four years. On any given day she oversees anywhere from 5 to 15 volunteers. Their tasks can include weeding and watering, planting new seeds, laying new irrigation pipes, and pouring fresh mulch.
The Ventura County Senior Garden is a collaborative effort among local government, non-profits and private businesses. The community garden provides fresh, local produce to the Senior Meals Program, which serves over 200,000 healthy meals annually to the community, according to the County of Ventura Area Agency on Aging.
The Pepperdine Volunteer Center has a partnership with the program through its long-term relationship with the broader organization FOOD Share, a non-profit committed to reducing hunger and educating the community on the hunger situation in Ventura County.
The government-run program works in partnership with the onsite organization FOOD Share, which relies on the help and co-operations of 190 different “pantry partners,” including local schools, churches, and service projects like Meals on Wheels.
“Our Pantry Partners help distribute the produce on deliveries, at meal sites and grocery shopping locations. These meal programs offer no charge for people that are 60 or older,” Wilking said.
Mia Shinseki, a senior who works at the Pepperdine Volunteer Center as a “service trip leader,” is in charge of coordinating and scheduling events with organizations like FOOD Share. Shinseki’s role involves researching and providing local hunger and homelessness outreach opportunities for Pepperdine students, precisely like the community garden.
“I think of the PVC as a bridge between the students and the larger community,” she said.
Shinseki assumes the role of task manager for the small group of volunteer gardeners. She has been in charge of the community garden trips since it was piloted in October.
Her hope was that word of the community garden would spread and that more students would have an interest in participating in the project focused on eliminating hunger in Ventura County.
The service trips have become a reoccurring opportunity hosted by the PVC every Wednesday, Shineski said.
Junior, Josh Voorhees has the role of service trip leader through the PVC, which requires him to “physically” lead the projects that Shineski facilitates with organizations focused on hunger and homelessness.
As a member of Psi Upsilon, Voorhees enjoys bringing his fraternity brothers along for the service projects he leads. Serving not only provides them an excuse to hang out and meet up, but it feels rewarding for them to work on something for somebody else, he said.
The County of Ventura Probation Agency and the Area Agency on Aging developed the idea for the Ventura Community Garden in 2009. They decided to grow fresh produce on the back property of the Juvenile Justice Facility in Oxnard. As the initiative grew and word spread, local agri-businesses began to donate their expertise and resources, according to Ventura County’s official program description.
Christina Forino, a volunteer coordinator for FOOD Share who helps oversee progress on the garden, has worked with Pepperdine students for several years. Off the top of her head she can list several alumni who are still currently volunteering with FOOD Share.
“Our partnership with Pepperdine is important. It’s joyful,” she said, referring to the longstanding relationship between the university and the organization.
Larger events like Step Forward Day, group work such as gardening, food sorting, and involvement with their ‘partner pantries’ are the best activities and opportunities for the PVC to promote on campus, she said.
“It’s great to see young people out here caring for the community,” Forino said.
Since late July, local volunteer Nadia Dayao, heads to the community garden whenever her schedule grants her the time.
“FOOD Share is so generous to seniors, low income families, and the needy. We need more of that,” she said.
For Dayao service is not like having a full-time job or making a lifelong commitment. Rather, it comes down to caring and making yourself available when you are able to.
“You can’t get fired from the job, just come when you can and believe in the difference you can make,” she said.
FOOD Share is hosting a Christmas-themed service orientated event from Dec. 2 through Dec. 4 called the CAN-Tree Collection.
Contact Christina Forino at email@example.com for more information.
Follow Addy Rogers on Instagram: @addynicole