Waynesboro community garden unites neighbors to brightens girl’s leukemia battle

waynesboroOn Saturday, Waynesboro-area residents are invited to help bolster the spirits of one of their youngest warriors by participating in a drive-by flower drop at the home of the city’s newest community garden.

Volunteers at Embrace Waynesboro will collect flower seedlings to be planted in a special bed set aside for Presley Kelso. One of the center’s youngest neighbors, Kelso was diagnosed in August with leukemia.

The drive-by flower drop was envisioned in the weeks following the COVID-19-related cancellation of a benefit for Kelso. Embrace Waynesboro volunteers began thinking of ways to safely show their ongoing support for Presley, her brother Van, sister Whitley Belle, and their parents despite not being able to host the spaghetti-dinner fundraiser planned by friends of the family.

With a community garden taking root on the lawn of the former church building, Embrace’s director said that adding a bed dedicated to flowers specifically for Presley and her family made sense.

“We thought that as the flowers grew, they would bring joy to Presley and her family anytime they passed by,” said Jenelle Watson, the local United Methodist pastor who is working with the members of the community to develop Embrace.

“Since August, Presley’s family has worked hard to protect her from illnesses in the community. We knew she was pretty isolated,” Watson said. “Now, given the risks posed by COVID-19, the danger Presley faces by venturing outside is even greater. But, so too is her need for support. This is not only a safe way for people to care for Presley and her family, but something that would continue to bless Presley – and our community – for months to come.”

More Family Garden Plots Available

During the Posies for Presley event, local residents may also submit requests for family garden spaces in Embrace’s Community Gardens.

Watson noted that as the virus strengthens its grip on the local economy, Embrace volunteers have been eager to help neighbors who may be feeling increased pressure to provide food for their families. Thanks to a $2,000 grant from Virginia Cooperative Extension, the center is adding 10 raised beds for family growing plots. This is in addition to the new in-ground bed planted a few weeks ago, and 15 raised beds they installed last year.

“Our volunteers noticed people inquiring on social media about needing community garden space,” Watson said. “We are called to share what we have with our neighbors, so since one of the things we have to share is a big lawn, adding more growing space for families seemed only fitting.”

With a complete city block at their disposal, Watson said plans for Embrace had always included some sort of community garden initiative. But she admits she had no idea the need would grow so quickly – or be so urgent. “We view our grounds and the building on them as resources to be used to bless our neighbors and create a stronger community. What better way to do that — especially now — than to use those grounds to feed others?”

In less than a year, the community gardens at Embrace have already proven to be successful. Watson said that after converting the former church building’s front lawn to garden space last summer, Embrace volunteers worked with nearby Main Street United Methodist Church and their youth group to provide hundreds of pounds of fresh vegetables to food insecure members of the community through that congregation’s Food Pantry.

“We felt that a community garden would be a wonderful opportunity for the youth of our church, providing them basic gardening education, as well how to reach out and help others by providing food to those in need,” said Embrace neighbor Julie Conner, whose husband, Adam Conner, serves as the youth director for Main Street UMC.

According to Watson, a limited number of Family Garden Beds are available on a first-come/first-served basis for an annual lease of $10. The lease fee helps cover the facility’s water bill. Sponsors have committed to covering the fee for low-income families or those facing economic hardship. Free plants are also available for those families. Future plans for the center’s city block include further expansion of the in-ground gardens, a natural playground, community picnic area, and a prayer garden.

The Posies for Presley Drive-By Flower Drop and Community Garden Sign-Up Event will be held 9 a.m. until noon Saturday (May 23) at Embrace’s 932 Fir Street location.

Safety Protocols

  • In order to protect against coronavirus community spread, donors are asked to wear masks and remain in their cars.
  • Driver-side drop offs of flowers, cards, or garden plot requests can be made on tables in the Embrace parking lot — located at the corner of Fir Street and Howard Avenue.
  • Passenger-side drop offs can be made on the tables located curbside at the center’s community gardens on Fir Street.
  • Donors are asked to drive up to a table, and place their gifts directly on the table through their vehicle’s windows. Volunteers will not approach vehicles. Buckets will be available on the tables for the collection of cards and notes.

For information on Embrace or the Community Gardens, email EmbraceWaynesboro@gmail.com or call (540) 324-7006. Information is also on the Embrace Waynesboro Community Gardens Facebook page.

About the Event

What: Posies for Presley Drive-By Flower Drop and Community Garden Sign-Up
When: 9 a.m.-noon Saturday
Where: Embrace – A Center for Community, 932 Fir Street, Waynesboro
For information: EmbraceWaynesboro@gmail.com or (540) 324-7006


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