Our Lady of Fatima parish in Delanson is the proud host of a beautiful new garden that helps to feed hungry senior citizens. The story of how the garden came about is even more beautiful.

For many years, OLF has been a host for one of Catholic Charities’ Senior and Caregiver Support Services programs called the “Friendship Cafe.” A place for seniors to make friends, socialize and enjoy a free, nutritious meal, the cafes meet in four different locations in Schenectady County three days a week, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

At the program, seniors can also enjoy activities such as health and nutrition education screenings and bingo. The Friendship Cafe also sponsors field trips to shopping malls, farmers’ markets and local parks for picnics.

Parishioner Nancy Chrinian is a volunteer with the Friendship Cafe and serves as a liaison of sorts between the parish and Catholic Charities. Back in May, some seniors approached her about adding a garden to the parish grounds. Many seniors who patronize the Friendship Cafe have a green thumb, and adding a garden would allow for fresh produce usable by the cafe.

Can’t afford it

The problem? “We have a budget of zero,” said Mrs. Chrinian. “How are we going to pull this off?”

Mrs. Chrinian approached parishioner and woodworker Joel Caraher for help. Mr. Caraher advised that the garden would have to be on raised beds with two- to three-foot wooden walls around it to make gardening wheelchair-accessible for the seniors.

Again, how was the parish going to afford the supplies for a handicapped-accessible garden?

“What wound up happening was kind of phenomenal,” said Mrs. Chrinian, adding: “If you give it to God, He will take care of it.”

News about the proposed garden traveled by word-of-mouth through the parish. One parishioner, Madeline Hebert, offered a hemlock tree from her woods; another, Kim Balfour, volunteered to cut the tree down and mill the wood for the garden’s raised beds. Mrs. Balfour and Mr. Caraher then took the wood and built the raised beds.

Some parishioners got donations of manure and soil. Others donated herbs, seeds and plants.

Great results

The garden now has three raised beds with tomato plants, peppers, zucchini, lettuce and sunflowers.

It all happened “just by word of mouth and knowing the right people to talk to,” said Mrs. Chrinian.

Doreen Wright is the program manager for the Friendship Cafe. She remarked that, one minute, parishioners were donating herbs for seniors to plant, and “the next thing you know, it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s so much food!’”

In the spring, Mrs. Wright worked with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program on donating potted plants to all four of Catholic Charities’ Friendship Cafe sites. When the garden officially opened at OLF in June, Master Gardener instructors were able to help the seniors do the planting.

Now, seniors tend to the garden at their leisure during their Friendship Cafe visits.

“You can see the joy in their eyes and faces” as they garden, Mrs. Wright said.

Some seniors have talked about how they tended their own gardens when they were younger, and how different the world was at the time. “It opens up a whole new part of them,” said Mrs. Wright.

More to come

While the garden is dwindling as fall approaches, Mrs. Chrinian said the parish plans to keep it around for years to come.

It’s “just amazing when people come together to work on a project, and how beautiful it becomes,” said Mrs. Wright. “It brings joy from beginning to end.”

(Catholic Charities’ Friendship Cafes are also held at the Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna, the Scotia-Glenville Senior Center in Glenville and the Ten Eyck Apartments in Schenectady. For general information, call Catholic Charities Senior and Caregiver Support Services at 518-372-5667 or see www.ccseniorservices.org. For more information on Our Lady of Fatima’s Friendship Café, contact Doreen Wright at 518-429-8438 or dwright@cath­charschdy.org.)