For the past few years, hundreds of residents in need have benefited from over 1 1/2 tons of vegetables grown by Coventry Community Garden volunteers.
All the produce that is grown in front of the Town Hall Annex on Flat River Rd. and at the ASFMS greenhouse has been donated to the Coventry Food Pantry, stored and then distributed as quickly as possible.
But no one has had more fun and derived more satisfaction from the project than CCG Coordinator Gail Tatangelo.
During her long career as an accountant after earning a degree from Bryant College, Tatangelo always maintained her interest in the outdoors, gardening and even woodcarving.
“My mother and father grew all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said the West Warwick native. “We also made home-made bread, canned pickles and made jellies and jams.”
Produce grown by her family was never wasted and always savored. “I remember my parents hanging me from my feet to grab some thing we needed that was stored in the root cellar,” she vividly recalls. “It was impossible just to walk down and get it.”
Yet after retiring in 2004, when she could have devoted even more time in private to her many interests and hobbies, she turned her attention toward helping others through gardening.
“I earned a Master Gardeners Certificate at the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension Center a few years ago and put that valued training to use right away," she said. “I was asked to help set up community gardens in three parts of the state, but I just wanted to start one here.”
Tatangelo also credits Robert Robillard, Coventry Dept. of Human Services Social Worker, community businesses and hundreds of volunteers ranging in age from three to 99 for the success of the program.
This Master Gardener emphasizes that the plants grown in the garden are "all organic”. “There’s no chemicals going into the water, no pollutants and no contamination of the soil," Tatangelo explained.
In such a short time, CCG has already received so much attention and acclaim, including a grant won from Gardening with Kids Magazine. The group is currently in contention with 14 other gardening organizations across the country for one of five $4,000 grants to be awarded by Organic Magazine. Voting for the contest extends until August 6 and Tatangelo is urging everyone to vote every day until the end.
What would the group do if they were one of the grant winners? “We could use a shed to store shovels, a lawnmower and other supplies,” she said.
Tatangelo is gratified when watching so much interaction among three and even four generations of volunteers, including Girl Scouts, students and family members. “It’s great to see kids intermingle with seniors."
This busy and selfless volunteer who works so hard on behalf of the CCG is guided by a simple philosophy. “You got to give back to the community; that’s what life is all about,” she said. “You never know who it is that needs some food. It could be a relative, a neighbor or a close friend.”