If you need to take a moment to refresh your faith in humanity, check out the website and Facebook page of the Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville, Texas. Their vision is to “provide for the poor, restore the addicted, and eliminate homelessness,” and they’re doing that, one person at a time.
Food and Services
John Rodriguez, their esteemed Client Services Manager, applied for a 2020 Gardening Know How sponsorship to fund an upgrade of the organization’s Mesa Llena Garden, a work in progress. Plans are to add two hydroponic gardens to Mesa LLena to provide an additional source of fresh food for folks who visit the “Good Neighbor.”
John and a host of other hard working staff members are here at the Good Neighbor every day busily assisting the underserved populations of his region. In addition to meals, the organization provides clothing, shelter, showers, hygiene items, free COVID testing and a wide array of miscellaneous support services for those who need it most through the Client Services department. Transitioning folks from homelessness and offering respite to asylum seekers are among their priorities.
Serving three nutritious meals per day Monday through Friday at no cost, the Good Neighbor Soup Kitchen provides service in a safe, comfortable, and judgment-free zone where all are welcome. Just this year they’ve served 39,885 meals.
The Good Neighbor’s La Posada Dinner Feeding Program, through the support of numerous community groups, creates and serves delicious meals at Good Neighbor, just one of the ways in which volunteers keep this important service going. Partnered with local clubs, schools and churches, they have been working for 30 years to provide dinner to Brownsville’s street homeless and low-income residents. In 2019 they served over 90,000 meals. When it’s up and running, the hydroponically grown vegetables in the Mesa Llena Garden will contribute to these meals.
The Great Texas Freeze of 2021
We all heard about the record freezing temperatures that descended on Texas in February of 2021. In a state where temperatures are notably warm, this prolonged deep freeze wreaked havoc, and left an unprecedented trail of destruction in Texas. The Mesa Llena Neighbor’s Garden at the Good Neighbor Settlement House was no exception.
John Rodriguez is hoping the organization’s two SuperPonics hydroponic grow systems won’t be susceptible to any new weather anomalies. Having already lost a tomato crop, this time they’ll start small with their new equipment, growing herbs first. When the Texas weather begins to cool after Labor Day, the new hydroponic gardens will be launched and new crops will provide food for the future, newly improved soup kitchen and expanded dining room.
COVID Changes Things
Due to the new normal of living in a COVID impacted society, the highly anticipated expansion project for Good Neighbor’s soup kitchen and dining room hasn’t gone quite as planned. Since the pandemic, prices of materials like steel and lumber have skyrocketed, and building materials are not as easy to come by as they were in the past. The original construction price of the planned expansion has quadrupled. All the building materials are on backorder for the project, and fundraising is in full swing.
Public Service Credits
Through a federal grant program called Youthbuild, funded through the U.S. Department of Labor, the Good Neighbor taps young volunteers for help. Youthbuild is designed to help educate people from 16 through 24 years of age who did not graduate from high school. The grant helps them get their GEDs and provides certification training for a range of vocations and technical jobs. People under this grant need public service credits as part of their graduation requirement, so volunteer work in the Good Neighbor house and garden provides them with valuable experience, public service credits and inspiration to grow healthy foods.
We’re cheering for the Good Neighbor Settlement House and the Mesa Llena Garden as they continue to be a resource for Brownsville residents in need of support. One of our favorite posts on their Facebook page is a photo of two people needing transportation to get to their jobs each day. The Good Neighbor furnished them with bicycles. It doesn’t get better than that.
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. We invite you to click here to submit an application.