Peace Lutheran Church in West Burlington has a fresh approach to feeding the hungry.

Volunteers from the church, now in their second year of growing a garden at the Burlington Area YMCA, are undeterred by this spring's late start due to frequent rainfall.

Strawberries are being picked and onions soon will be ready. Recently-planted tomatoes, zucchini squash, cucumbers, green beans, peppers, and more are starting to peek through the soil.

The harvest goes to six Burlington food pantries, individuals and Bridges Out of Poverty program participants, people who might not otherwise be able to afford access to freshly-picked vegetables and fruits.

“That is what we are called to do. To go out and take care of those who are in need. To be the hands and feet of Christ to the world,” said the Rev. Kathleen Wohlers, the church’s pastor.

Before planting, Wohlers blesses the seeds at a church service. Does it help?

“Absolutely,” said Jeraldine Lee, a Peace Lutheran Church member who, with her husband, Jerry, directs the effort.

The volunteers tend nine nine-foot-long raised garden beds that YMCA staff happily host on their grounds and provide with water.

“There is truly something beautiful ‘growing on’ and we are blessed to be a part of it,” says a recent post on the YMCA’s Facebook page.

The project started when the Lees, who live near and regularly walk around the YMCA on Mount Pleasant Street, noticed an unused, fenced-in area and the idea sprouted.

A “Gods Work Our Hands” service event the church does annually provided the first on-site preparation.

A bountiful first-year harvest in 2018 included 25 pounds of green beans, with produce delivered once or twice a week to grateful recipients who showed thanks with "hugs and God bless yous,” said Lee.

The garden, graced with a sign donated by a church member that says “What’s growing on here? Peace Lutheran Church,” includes zinnia flowers for bouquets “to brighten the day of people who are inbound,” said Wohlers, adding that some of the flowers also are placed at the church's altar.

The Southeastern Iowa ELCA Synod gave Peace Lutheran a $1,000 grant to start the project, an effort dear to the heart of Wohlers and her parishioners because it helps feed the needy and, for persons who are perhaps lonely, it provides “contact with people.” For several years, starting before she became a pastor, Wohlers has worked with World Hunger, first in Wisconsin and now in Iowa.

According to Wohlers, she always wanted to do something like the garden project, and seeing her dream become a reality “made my heart happy.”

She said her church synod considers itself an “anti-hunger synod, not just physical but spiritual and emotional hunger as well.”

The garden, she said, is “a marvelous gift.”