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Cultivating community service in Lawrence

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Gammy’s Pantry provides food to families across the Five Towns and some of that food is grown right in Lawrence in the garden at the Five Towns Community Center.

Both the pantry and garden are named for Betty “Gammy” Young, the grandmother of Youth Services Coordinator and Gammy’s Pantry Director Sasha Young.

The pantry has a daily food distribution and during the pandemic partnered with Long Island Cares, a collaboration that began last June.

“We have a little over 3,000 families registered on the South Shore,” Young said. “Daily we see, on fruits and vegetable days, probably 200 people.”

The garden began a few years ago as a butterfly garden, but during the pandemic has also focused on fruits and vegetables for the pantry. Young and her children as well as children and teens from the Youth Advocacy Group and the center’s summer camp primarily tend to the garden and pick the crops. There are children as young as 2 years old who catch butterflies and seniors, the oldest being 94, who help with the garden.

One of the senior volunteers, Mariarosa Guzzardi, has been volunteering since the pandemic started. She primarily works with kids to make arts and crafts to decorate and personalize the garden.

“We recycle stuff and make something beautiful,” Guzzardi said. “We take a bicycle and make a basket with flowers … We want to paint a bench and make it different … One of the kids gave the idea to make a choo choo train where we can put flowers. We make the kids’ ideas become reality.”

Cedarhurst resident Jennifer Weisel started volunteering at the center when she had time off from work last summer. She wanted to return the favor for the help that Gammy’s Pantry has provided her family.
“Sasha’s such a great lady,” Weisel said. “She does so much for the community so it’s the least I can do to help her out and help the community with her.”

Young hopes to expand the garden’s services to include more interactive activities for children and partnerships with the center’s recycling program.

“We have butterfly larvae that are on the way so we can have children watch butterflies hatch and grow,” Young said. “We’ll be adding a lot more plants that bring bees and insects to pollinate ...We’re going to start interactive videos that people can take home and that we’re going to tape and show cooking straight from the garden. We’re definitely conserving water this year and we’re working on a new garden initiative with our recycling program that we have. We’re going to be using water bottles as plant containers so that we can actually grow our garden plants in the plastic recycled bottles.”

The most important aspect of the garden is its service to the community. “Everything goes towards people here in the community,” Young said. “Anything we pick goes right back into the community.”

The Five Towns Community Center is at 270 Lawrence Ave. To sign up to volunteer in the garden, email gammyspantry@gmail.com or call (347) 702-2013.