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Garden helps homeless veterans feel a sense of community

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 12:44 p.m. MDT

Volunteers build a garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Volunteers build a garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Homeless veterans living at the Valor Apartments have a new garden to help them heal, thanks to volunteers from Home Depot.

It’s a place where the 13 military veterans at apartment complex at 718 E. 700 South can get together and share. It’s part of a program to reduce homelessness among veterans.

“I think a lot of us tend to isolate and feel alone,” said Iraq War veteran Chris Clark, who has lived at the Valor Apartments for the past year.

Clark said he believes the garden will bring back a sense of community and help veterans transition back into real life.

“I think being around people and being around people with similar problems is very beneficial,” he said. “It has been for me.”

Volunteers build a garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Volunteers build a garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Clark said he looks forward to nurturing the plants and friendships, and raising the flag over the garden.

"I'm going to try my hand at tomatoes and maybe some fresh herbs and stuff,” he said. “I'm kind of excited."

Veterans typically stay in the apartments for two years. It’s a transitional place for qualified veterans who go from being homeless to eventually living in a place of their own.

"They want to be a part of the community, and this is a step up for them,” said veteran and apartment manager Bill Lee.

The program is a partnership between the Housing Authority of Salt Lake City and the Department of Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System.

Veterans Paul Pyles, left, and Chris Clark raise a flag in the new garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Veterans Paul Pyles, left, and Chris Clark raise a flag in the new garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

An army of volunteers from Home Depot stores all along the Wasatch Front built the community garden Thursday. They built planter boxes, filled them with dirt and planted vegetables, flowers and spices.

The Home Depot Foundation provided a $45,000 grant to create the urban garden.

Home Depot employs 35,000 veterans nationwide, including 1,500 active members of the military.

“This is our way of giving back to them for what they’ve given us,” said Glenn Balda, manager of Home Depot in Sandy.

The company has set aside $80 million for such projects over the next three years.

The garden also includes a wall of honor, featuring the emblem of each of the military branches next to the flagpole.

Volunteer Brittani Ricks helps build a garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Volunteer Brittani Ricks helps build a garden for veterans at the Valor Apartments in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"With the homeless rate of our veterans, I think that we all need to get out and help out," said Home Depot volunteer Conley Butler.

"Just giving them something simple, peace of mind, just caring for something, I think it's going to be really, really good,” volunteer Rachelle Keaton added.

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