Spirit of Ministry: Affiliate’s ‘deepest core values’ sown in neighborhood garden

Spirit of Ministry: Affiliate’s ‘deepest core values’ sown in neighborhood garden
Photo courtesy of Olivet Neighborhood Mission

By Mary Ellen Dunford, affiliate

It began in 1976 with a card table set up in the parking lot of Olivet Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, topped with 
two piles of clothing. Very quickly the table overflowed. Today we’re providing much more than clothing, from a dedicated building to a nonprofit organization — Olivet Neighborhood Mission.

Olivet Neighborhood Mission helps provide food, clothing, toiletries and small houseware items for those in need, free of charge. It provides youth programs in partnership with Head Start and the Boys & Girls Club of Cedar Rapids; local school resources, including funding for a RN; and more.

I applied for an FSPA ministry grant, for the first time, to aid the organization and my neighbors it serves. I am happy to report that a grant was approved, and the organization is now growing Olivet Community Gardens, a program that supports the food and kitchen pantries providing fresh vegetables, fruit and premade meals at no charge.

The gardens first planted in the 1990s were totally destroyed by the floods in 2008, rebuilt and then devastated by a derecho that left widespread destruction in 2020. Garden plots, a shed and produce not yet harvested were destroyed. FSPA funding is in part rejuvenating and adding plots, replanting trees, vegetables and flowering perennials, purchasing seeds and seedlings and replacing the shed.

Food security is not the only aim of the program. Laudato Si’ goals including ecological education are met by the teaching of gardening skills and meal preparation with fresh produce. Partnerships with Iowa State University and its Extension and Outreach Master Gardener Program, along with other organizations, are prospering. Neighborhoods are beautified. Standards are set for land ethics and care of the land we are gifted with. Instilled in all are pride and connection between people and God through nature.

This is an organization that touches my deepest core values of service and ministry to others. As an affiliate, I was inspired to sponsor this grant by the provocative movements proclaimed by A Revolution of Goodness. It exemplifies relationship building, joyful Gospel living, community, diversity and ministry. It is a life-changing gift for all of creation.


An affiliate for 24 years, Mary Ellen Dunford is a member of Connector Cables Virtual Companion Community living in Hiawatha, Iowa, with her husband, Bob. She is an avid gardener whose passions include integral ecology and immigration/migration efforts. She serves on the FSPA Affiliation Operating Board and various other committees that support the mission, vision and values of FSPA Affiliation.


Tour Chapels
Explore our Ministries