SnapJAX Stories: Growing grace and hope in the garden

SnapJAX Stories is back and this week, it was a perfectly aligned drone picture by Tom Schifanella that got our attention.

As you know, our goal is to find the story behind the picture and what we found on the ground were greens, grace and a lot of hope.

This picture grabs your attention, but it’s not so clear what’s below.

Get a little closer and you see cabbage, fresh greens, herbs, tomatoes and all kinds of fresh veggies.

When you walk through Grace Garden you can see how it earned its name.

“The executive director at the time said that she knew that before you can have hope you have to grace. So we started with grace,” Mary Ellen Waugh said. If that last name sounds familiar, you’re not wrong (more on that later).

Waugh spearheaded the garden at BEAM (Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry) 10 years ago with lots of grace. A huge donation from Home Depot made it all possible.

BEAM provides food, rent, utility and financial assistance to low-income residents at the beaches. The main goal of the garden was to add fresh healthy produce to the food pantry.

“If you think 10 years ago, there was no produce food pantries. It was canned food that you were kind of just handing out,” Waugh said.

Grace Garden gave people a choice.

“That’s my kale and those are our radishes. The stuff that we harvest does come in here and I think that’s our lettuce and arugula that we got in. That came in yesterday. Yeah, so they can pick from that. We tell our clients to take whatever you can use,” Waugh said.

Waugh quickly learned Grace Garden does much more than that.

“The secondary purposes, no one comes to BEAM that isn’t in a crisis. We do much more than food, we do rent, utility subsidies, we have a single-parent project, we really help people stay in their homes when they’re getting ready to be evicted,” Waugh said. “Everyone comes here stressed. We wanted a space that you could just take a deep breath and sit and relax while you were waiting for that check while you were waiting for JEA to turn your electricity back on again.”

This journey was not one she trained or even asked for, in fact, Waugh’s first garden was actually kind of a surprise.

“I got into gardening when my youngest daughter, Kate, came back from an internship in South Africa, where she started a garden behind a community center. And when she came home, she tore out our whole yard and put in boxes, and then proceeded to go back to school in Washington, DC,” Waugh said.

So mom had to learn and later found out this unexpected inheritance was truly a gift.

“I did love it, watching a seed grow under the ground. They say to plant a garden is to believe in the future,” Waugh said.

It’s been a family affair, Waugh has two daughters, Kate and News4JAX anchor Jennifer Waugh.

“Jen and the kids always do work on the weekends. Before I had regular garden volunteers, I had to do a lot of manual labor,” Mary Ellen Waugh said.

News4JAX’s Jennifer Waugh is Mary Ellen’s oldest daughter. She also found a home in the garden, alongside a mother who taught her many lessons.

“You’re never too old to have a dream and fulfill it,” Mary Ellen Waugh said. “If you put together the right people with the right hearts, you really can do anything.”

You can become a Grace Garden Member by adopting a garden box. Your support of the garden allows BEAM to plant four seasons of organic vegetables in each box, which will be directly distributed to the food pantry. The Grace Garden provides around 8,000 pounds of fresh produce to over 235 families in the Beaches community each year.

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