Students help prepare Garden of Kindness

Food raised will be donated

By Diana Graettinger
special to independent newsmedia

Two of Arizona’s religious leaders believe that it takes a global community to change the world by feeding the hungry and caring for the people who have battled life’s challenges.

That was the message the weekend Oct. 26-28 at the Unity Spiritual Center, 10101 W. Coggins Drive, where high school students from Poland, Lithuania, Mongolia, China, Indonesia and South Africa bent their backs to the sun, got callouses on their hands as they dug deep into a bank of soil to fill planter boxes that soon will overflow with vegetables for the Valley View Community Food Bank.

Every day, the food bank is brimming with caned and boxed items along with other staples, but fresh vegetables and fruit have been absent from patrons’ diets. Unity Spiritual Center is changing that. The marriage of congregants, international volunteers and consumers means that patrons at the food bank soon will have fresh vegetables and fruit to augment their daily intake of food.

The church has been a long-time supporter of the food bank.

Young people from the STS Foundation picked up shovels, pushed wheelbarrows and filled 10 planting boxes with dirt in preparation for planting.

“It is a foreign exchange program that works with children from all over the world,” Katrina Ontiveros, project supervisor, said.

According to its website,, it is a Department of State sponsored high school exchange program.

“We are proud to offer American families the opportunity to become citizen diplomats by welcoming an international high school student into their home. By living as a family member the students learn about the American way of life and host families also experience a new culture,” as stated on the website.

The foundation is based in Massachusetts.

It is all about learning about life in America.

“The point of this is we want them to become a part of the community. We want them to learn about who is in the community in the U.S. and Arizona and take that back to their own countries hopefully for them to better help their own communities,” Ms. Ontiveros  said.

The project was planned for more than a year.

“Exchange students we had last year helped plan this,” she said. “So here we are a year later finally able to put the dirt in and the next step will be adding the water features, then planting some seeds and saplings.”

Xena Pattison, of South Africa, shovel in hand, explained why she was there.

“So they can plant vegetables to give to the homeless people, this is just to help them.” she said of the church.

Salsa Azzahra of Indonesia agreed.

“I am working, so we can make a garden here,” she said.

There also were other young volunteers there, two of Katrina Ontiveros’ children, son Gabriel, 10, and his sister Maya, 6, of Levine could be seen standing high on the dirt. Although the shovels were bigger than they were, they pushed and shoved dirt into the wheelbarrow to be carted away to the planting beds.

“This is fun,” Gabriel said with a massive grin.

Unity minister the Rev. Sharon Bush smiled as she watched the young people dig into the project.

“You know there are international leaders who deny that we live in a global village, but it is the international young people we have here today who are our teachers and who will instill in us the value of a global village,” she said.

The Rev. Jim Yeaw, who spearheaded the project since its inception, said he was pleased with the results.

“We could not have done this without them. They came in here, sang in our choir, participated in our fellowship and then got their hands dirty helping to build gardens to help the homeless; I would say that is a very loving and giving international community spirit,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Ms. Graettinger provides publicity for Unity Spiritual Center.

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