Hungry reap the benefits of Shining Light Garden dinner

Kathie Althoff, Joel Bray, Greg Vafiades and Renae Senn [Photo: Denise Ritchie]

A cornucopia of generosity was celebrated last Tuesday evening, as people gathered at the Bent Pine Golf Club for the eighth annual Spring Dinner to benefit the Shining Light Garden Foundation.

Guests enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres as they perused an exciting array of auction items, before adjourning to the dining room for a beautifully presented dinner.

The 100 percent donor-driven nonprofit distributes 100 percent of the crops that volunteers grow and harvest from the garden to the “homeless, hungry and forgotten,” upholding their mission to “feed the hungry, one garden at a time.”

Proceeds from the Spring Dinner will be used to help the garden grow through the purchase of seeds, farm equipment and whatever capital improvements are needed to continue its operation.

The ancient proverb that “you reap what you sow” perfectly describes what occurred in 2008, when Joel Bray first began to give away the fresh produce that he had planted and grown in his small backyard garden. The more he grew and gave away, he said, the more he wanted to grow, so he could share the bounty with even more people.

Shining Light Garden has since grown to encompass 20 acres in Winter Beach, and now provides fresh vegetables to people in need through local food pantries, soup kitchens, veteran organizations and senior programs.

“The more we grow, the more people seem to need our help,” said community liaison Greg Vafiades. “We stopped counting how many bushels of vegetables we were giving away several years ago. At that point, we were at 18,000 bushels of fresh vegetables going out to Indian River County, free of charge. That number has more than doubled. Nothing goes to waste.”

In addition to vegetables, the Shining Light Garden spreads joy by delivering their freshly cut flowers to the VNA Hospice House. A group of dedicated volunteers create cheerful arrangements to brighten up the lives of individuals who are receiving end-of-life care in the home-like setting.

Guests at the dinner were also treated to bouquets of flowers that had been artfully arranged in mason jars, with everything from snapdragons to sunflowers popping in a rainbow of colors.

Vafiades noted that through divine providence, the needs of the garden continue to be met, including a recent donation of more than $141,000 worth of heavy equipment.

“The good Lord watches over us,” said Vafiades. “Without the Lord watching over us, I don’t think this could happen. We couldn’t reach all the people that we do if it weren’t for the volunteers. Whether you financially back us or volunteer out at the garden, without you, it would be impossible.”

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Photos by: Denise Ritchie
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