AmeriCorps VISTAs: Growing Sustainability at The University Church

The University Church has had the pleasure of serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA host site with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks since 2010. One of the lasting benefits that we at The University Church experience through this partnership is strong program sustainability.

As a recent example, in 2015 a group of students from The University of Toledo volunteered with our Community Garden Outreach. Those volunteers continued to work with the Community Garden VISTAs over the next year and through training and experience, provided by summer and yearlong VISTAs, the students were inspired to create their own volunteer organization in August 2016. The organization is called SCAPULA (Students Cultivating Access to Produce Using Local Agriculture) and was created to facilitate food distribution throughout Toledo. VISTAs sourced local produce and created a strong volunteer base to help SCAPULA glean food from local farms. The Community Garden continues to support this new organization in a mentoring capacity by providing volunteers for their gleaning efforts, however, this student organization now functions independently.

In 2016, our VISTA members’ work at Reynolds School also yielded sustainable results. The Reynolds community garden has become fully functional through the increased volunteer involvement and guidance provided by VISTAs. The demand for supplemental food donations from TUC Community Garden has decreased significantly this year due to the newly operational Reynolds community garden. We will continue to expand their garden in 2017 to further support the Reynolds community and aim for complete self-sufficiency this year (i.e. no demand for supplemental produce donation from TUC). 

As a result, in 2016, the Community Garden was able to redirect a portion of its resources to other sites that had greater needs, such as Food For Thought mobile food pantries and The Community Cares Clinic which we have strengthened our ties with this year through VISTA efforts. More than twenty thousand pounds of VISTA gleaned produce provided these organizations, as well as the Reynolds community, with most of their produce needs for the year. 

The primary goal for the winter of 2017 is to devise and implement a plan to remove our need for city water. Our current VISTA member is creating a plan to become fully self-sufficient before the growing season this year and is working closely with University of Toledo staff to aid us in this goal. This is a tremendous gift to the community in future food growth and makes TUC Community Garden a much more financially stable operation for years to come.  

Another aspect of program sustainability is job creation. We have had the gratification of being able to hire three of our former VISTA members and seeing several former VISTA members find employment with our partner organizations. It is a joy to see VISTA members build the capacity of our organization in such a way that it enables us to add them to our team as employees.

We couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds for the VISTA program at The University Church. We are very grateful for the opportunity to continue serving with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. Please click the links for more information about the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and their AmeriCorps VISTA program. 

The University Church is excited to announce that we will be hosting up to three year-long VISTA members from July 2017-June 2018. Check back in February for application details.

Article contributors: Danny Wilson-AmeriCorps VISTA member and Scott Delaney-Community Garden Director

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