Merideth Spriggs makes things happen. Calling her an innovator doesn’t fully capture her awesome ability to make a difference in the world.
Awarding Gardening Know How’s 2020 School and Community Garden Sponsorship to Caridad Charity was an easy decision. As Chief Kindness Officer in Las Vegas, Nevada, Merideth Spriggs started this sizable charity in 2021 with a Gardening Know How sponsorship for seed money, a master’s degree in Divinity and a boundless compassion for people without homes, particularly Veterans. Having experienced homelessness herself, she has a keen awareness for what is critically needed when living on the street.
Merideth describes Caridad Charity as a “homeless concierge”, giving the best customer service to the homeless community. She began by delivering basic life necessities to unhoused folks on the Las Vegas streets. Now with a full team of volunteers and workers, displaced individuals, families and veterans have access to a wide array of services, as well as the opportunity for employment.
A hydroponic garden space donated to the charity in its early days was just the beginning of a gardening program that has at grown immensely in the last two years. The third farm garden is now in progress.
Caridad Gardens Jobs Program
Caridad Gardens is a jobs program created in 2019, using gardening to reintegrate formerly homeless veterans. Fifty percent of the farm produce raised in Caridad’s gardens is sold to restaurants and bars within a two mile radius of Caridad’s headquarters, fresh mint being one of the more popular crops. The proceeds of those sales provide an income for the Veterans who work for Caridad. The other half of the produce is donated and delivered to low-income families. Merideth notes that some of these folks have never seen some of the less common vegetables (like radishes), so Caridad includes recipes. The charity’s farm program employs Veterans who were formerly homeless, and who may be dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues. Caridad helps them get on their feet with a purpose.
Caridad pays sheltered veterans a $50 stipend each week to grow various vegetables and flowers at home. The fruits of their labors beautify a formerly dangerous backstreet that Caridad has transformed into a pedestrian mallway, now called dT-Alley. That space now hosts live music, local art, a piano, painted murals and a library. It’s a forum for meditation sessions, community events and fundraisers. Moveable planter bins used to control vehicular traffic around the space are filled with flowers and vegetables grown by these home-gardening Vets, who also keep this lovely communal space clean and maintained.
Organic and Conscientious
Committed to a healthier planet, Caridad Gardens produces approximately 2.5 acres of fresh organic produce by only using 5 gallons of water a week. “Our little efficient farm recycles and reuses our water. The lights seen here are red a blue lights that turn on in 2 min cycles to keep our plant babies happy and growing.”
This year, Caridad will expand the gardens with two new shipping container farms. Their next hydroponic garden will be located at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. While clients in the Mission’s recovery program will be hired and trained to cultivate the crops, the Green Our Planet program will be teaching children all about gardening while their parents work in the farm. The kids will tend to garden boxes and also collect food waste from their cafeteria for a family compost project. Caridad’s outdoor garden also provides seeds for children of sheltered clients.
Caridad networks in Las Vegas with many other organizations to support its underserved community in important ways, such as offering trauma recovery yoga and community fitness.
A fun example is, in a unique city like Las Vegas, nightclub cover charges are sometimes waived in lieu of underwear donations. Caridad has QR codes posted on the planters in dT-Alley that offer information on Caridad’s activities, as well as interesting bios of local veterans. Las Vegas has a plethora of restaurants that buy produce, but Caridad’s strawberries are especially sold to a neighborhood donut bar.
A Different Approach
Initially conceived by Merideth Spriggs as a vital service for the unhoused, her work has evolved to connecting people in need to resources, helping them navigate the complexities of government benefits and proper identification. Involving people in meaningful, paid work in their growing urban agriculture projects, Caridad lives up to the meaning of charity from the heart.
Critical training and job reintegration for homeless individuals, as well as an extraordinary level of community development, makes this an exemplary program. We are grateful for the energy, focus, compassion and brilliance of Merideth Spriggs, the Chief Kindness Officer, indeed. Her support of the homeless and opportunities for health-giving and rewarding gardening opportunities are actually being received by those who just may need it the most.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.