Orem churches come together to help feed the hungry

Working together helps members of varied faiths find common ground

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Tammy Stephan, left, and Emily Lower talk as they pick rocks out of the garden ground as members of Orem churches work together.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

OREM — As Orem Community Church moderator Don Pendergrass pushes around a garden spreader on a plot of land just north of the church Monday night, he gestures towards groups of families showing up wearing work gloves and old clothes.

"The real story is about them," Pendergrass says. "Without them, this wouldn't be a reality."

Hearing what Pendergrass has said, Bishop David Cottrell of the Orem Stonewood 4th Ward gently disagrees.

"I wouldn't say that, Don," Cottrell counters. "We're just grateful to be here to help out."

Despite the difference of opinion on who's behind the project, inexperienced-yet-willing workers from multiple religious congregations in the area get on hands and knees and work together on this seemingly unnoticed plot of land. After the Community Church decided a couple years ago to make use of this half-acre plot behind the church as a means to grow food to donate to needy people in the area, professed followers of Jesus Christ of multiple faiths decided to put their faith into action.

"We wanted to do something with this that could benefit the community at large," Pendergrass says. "Only with our older congregation, it became a project that was a little too big for us to handle by ourselves."

With the help of other congregations in the area, including the Orem Stonewood 4th Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, the Assemblies of God, and a Korean denomination that shares the Community Church's chapel, the interfaith effort has turned out to be fruitful. Last year the half-acre plot produced two tons of donations to the Food and Care Coalition. After expanding the plot, the churches hope to donate four tons after this year's harvest.

Pendergrass attributes the production to remarkable individual efforts and God's good grace.

"One of our church members, Tino Olivera, suggested that we turn the property into a garden that could provide food for the needy in the community," Pendergrass says. "He grew up in poverty in southern Mexico and knew firsthand the need for something like this. Despite him working two eight-hour jobs a day, I can barely keep up with him in the work he does out here."

However, early on, despite the work of Olivera and others in the congregation, the church soon saw that a project of this magnitude was something they couldn't handle on their own. Last summer, weeds began to take control of the garden, and Don's daughter Sherry Pendergrass put out a call for help in local newspapers.

At the same time, Orem 4th Ward Relief Society President Tammy Stephan was looking for a service project in which her ward could participate to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the LDS Church's welfare program. Stephan suggested to then-Bishop Jim Hawkes that a project like this might be a perfect fit.

Stephan says that little experience taught her God hears all prayers.

"Sherry was working and praying for some way to get help," Stephan says. "At the same time we were praying to find something to do that would be meaningful. Both prayers were answered. She felt impressed to put that article in the newspaper and we found it."

Hawkes contacted Don Pendergrass and suggested he could get some of his congregation to help with the weed pulling. To Pendergrass' surprise, 40 members of the LDS congregation showed the first day to help out.

"It was truly a God-like interfaith activity that utilized the true concept of people helping people," Pendergrass says. "The sun shone a little brighter that day."

The two congregations teamed up a few more times that summer to help maintain the garden, leading to the two tons of donations. Olivera says the production surprised him as much as it surprised the folks at the donation center.

"It makes me feel really good, especially when I get to keep going back to the food bank with more," Olivera says. "Every time they see me, they're like 'Oh, its you again!'"

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