With the help of volunteers ranging from elementary school children to retirees, Magnolia’s Helping Hands Community Garden gives back to the community through growing fresh produce for those in need and teaching organic gardening practices.
Director Judy Rose founded Helping Hands in March 2000 and created a garden in the Tomball Museum District when she said she realized the need to feed the hungry in her community. Having seen hunger first-hand while living in Nigeria in the 1970s, and then watching her own daughter struggle with an eating disorder, Rose decided to locate vacant land for a community garden.
“If I couldn’t create a desire in my daughter to eat, then with the grace of God, I could use my gardening skills to feed those who were hungry and wished to eat,” Rose said.
The garden was moved to Rosehill until the fall of 2002. Montgomery County granted the organization land for a permanent home in 2003 at the West Montgomery County Community Development Center.
Volunteer gardeners at Helping Hands are free to take home the produce from their gardens, but much of the harvest is given to the local nonprofit Society of Samaritans or to families in need, such as veterans or widows.
At the new location in Magnolia, produce is grown using only organic products. Rose said many gardening enthusiasts go to the hardware store looking for pesticides to kill unwanted insects, but most do not know there are usually organic pest control methods that will keep animals away but will not kill beneficial insects, such as bees and ladybugs.
“Every living thing takes something from the soil, whether it’s a plant or an animal, like a goat, a chicken or a cow that eats from the ground. And we eat that animal,” she said.
Many volunteers are students, however, Rose said she also enjoys seeing seniors and retirees get excited about the work at the gardens.
“They love having a place to serve and give back to the community,” she said. “Some of them said they were just coming to work alongside me because I needed [the help, but] they get here and are excited about the plants.”
Although the organization accepts monetary donations, Rose said the garden has a greater need for volunteers. While most of Rose’s consistent weekly volunteers are retired or not working, she has also had families, home-school and elementary through high school students, Boy Scouts and church groups help out.
“We have over an acre so when you look at all that, and how there’s only a handful of volunteers right now. That’s a lot of work,” Rose said.
The garden has a one-hour dues principle, which means for each area an individual or group is given to garden, one hour of general garden maintenance—in addition to the work on their own bed—is required each month.
Rose said she believes the work at the Helping Hands garden changes the lives of the volunteers who help the plants and crops thrive.
“I’ve had several of my junior high and high school students [who] volunteered through the summer or spring breaks—some come back through the years to tell me that they learned so much,” she said.