Salem’s homeless shelter owns a complex of buildings at the former St. Mary’s Italian Church property on Margin Street that it calls the “Seeds of Hope” campus.
The name never seemed as appropriate as it did yesterday when Lifebridge, the shelter operators, announced plans to build the “Seeds of Hope Garden,” a large vegetable and flower plot.
The garden will be located on a sunny patch of land where, in 1945, Italian immigrants dedicated a religious stone grotto, a copy of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.
Shelter staff and clients intend to plant seeds in this once-sacred soil that, it is hoped, will produce more than just food for the dinner table and flowers for vases.
The garden will be tended by men and women staying at the shelter, as well as former shelter clients who live in apartment buildings on the site.
“It will give our folks an opportunity to get out there and engage in a project they can be fulfilled by,” said Mark Cote, executive director of Lifebridge.
Cote said he is confident that current and former shelter clients will “take ownership” of the garden.
One already has.
Paul Sumares, who lives in Lifebridge housing, tended to the grotto for years with a friend, takes care of a traffic island sponsored by the shelter and now is busy making plans for the new garden.
“Now that (the grotto) is gone, let’s do something with it,” Sumares said. “What better thing can you do than grow some food and take it over to Lifebridge?
“I also think the people may feel a sense of pride — ‘Hey, this is mine.’”
Plans for the garden are not yet final.
Karen Andrew, the kitchen manager, said she wants to grow herbs, tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables she can use at meals, along with flowers.