Growing Community and Harvesting Wellness

On a sunny Saturday morning in early October, five people hunched over a small plot of land in the center of a housing project in Phoenix pulling weeds and prepping the soil for fall planting. The team, made up of two Ozanam Manor residents, two former residents and a volunteer, meet at least once a week to continue the work on the garden. 

Ozanam Manor, our 49-bed transitional shelter, provides space and resources for homeless adults to obtain independent, permanent housing. The guests work with caring case managers and get access to mentoring and group activities. 

Residents at Ozanam work in two different gardens: one inside the property and another one just outside of it. The first one was put in place by St. Vincent de Paul’s volunteers a few years ago, and the second one, a community garden shared with neighbors and other community members, was funded by the city and by former New York gov. Michael Bloomberg.

Mike Bell, Ozanam Manor’s director, said one of the goals of the garden is to use the harvest in the kitchen so residents can enjoy fresh vegetables. Right now, the center relies on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food, many of which comes in cans. 

“We’re in a period in history where economy isn’t working for everybody,” he said. “The garden is an additional mean and could permanently become a source of food for our guests.” 

Mike said that besides the future dietary benefits the garden will bring, it also serves to create a sense of community among residents. 

“If they are active, then they are happy,” he said. “Working in the garden really gives them a sense of self-sufficiency. It’s great.”

Victoria Gelder has been volunteering with us for almost 20 years. She has experience working with the homeless through the Special Ministries program at St. Vincent de Paul. After Victoria heard about the opportunity to work on the garden at Ozanam Manor, she decided it to take it despite not having any experience gardening. 

Victoria, who teaches exercises classes and gives nutritional consultations, said the garden has two main goals, bringing the residents together and eventually selling the produce they are putting together to generate revenue to continue gardening. 

As she stood under the shade taking a water break and watching the others, she said she wanted nothing more than to support the residents in this gardening venture. 

“That’s what I do,” she said. “I’m a big cheerleader around here.”


Mark, a resident at Ozanam Manor who has plenty of experience gardening, was among the first to get on board with this year’s planting. This is Mark’s first autumn in Phoenix. 

Mark has formal training with gardening on large scale and experience in urban farming in the Midwest. 

“Hopefully we’ll put it all together one day and make something big happen,” he said. “This is a way for me to give back in exchange for what I am receiving. It’s very therapeutic and you get to meet people and have a good time while you’re out here.”


If you would like to support the Ozanam Manor gardening team and help us keep growing, please donate today. Your money will go directly to St. Vincent de Paul's gardening efforts.