PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Growing vigorously in a vacant East Liberty lot, bursting from its 18 garden beds with things like fresh tomatoes and peppers, the Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden has been providing free produce to the community for almost a decade.
"We now have up to 20 fruit trees. We started with just a few back in 2012," said Annie Dunn, a senior program associate for Repair the World Pittsburgh, the Jewish faith-based organization that manages the garden.
Thanks to the group's volunteer work, they gave away more than 500 pounds of fruit in 2021.
"The goal is that people who are walking by know that they can come in, pick some fresh produce, eat it immediately or take it home with them. Anything that's not collected, we harvest, and take to the food pantry," said Julie Mallis, executive director for Repair the World Pittsburgh.
But from the very same soil, those who tend to the garden are sowing seeds of hope.
In the wake of the Tree of Life tragedy three years ago Wednesday, the group started using the community garden for annual volunteer events to help those impacted by the tragedy heal from trauma.
"When I'm in mourning or my friends are in mourning, we've found that it's really meaningful to do something that's giving of the self," said Maxwell Reiver, a fellow with Repair the World Pittsburgh
Volunteer days at the garden continued this year as the world marks three years since the tragedy.
This was one of 20 commemorative service activities organized by RTWP. And new this year, each event represents a specific cause close to the victims' hearts.
"We wanted it to be more explicit and really honor them more intentionally and specifically and really let people know more about the lives of the folks who we lost," Mallis told KDKA.
Rooted in the rich values of Judaism, during each service event, not only are the volunteers keeping the lives of the victims in remembrance, they themselves are feeling enriched.
"Service is such a crucial part of Judaism for so many people. For Repair the World, it's sort of how we got our name," Mallis said.
Reiver told KDKA the "Repair the World" name translates from the Hebrew words "Tikkun Olam."
"It's whatever you can do to leave this world better than we found it," Reiver said. "Volunteering has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. So, to me, coming together to honor really significant people, and do it in a positive way that's really healing for community and the self, is a really awesome opportunity."
The Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden always needs volunteers to help out and keep their mission going. If you want to get involved, you can find the contact for the group here.
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