Garden-Works Project—A Grass Root Effort to Ease Hunger

October 2015 View more

Paula Fraser, President

Paula Fraser, President

Victoria doesn’t have an easy life. She’s a single mom caring for a young boy. She works long stressful hours as a hospital cleaner. But when she comes home to her apartment, she’s welcomed by a little oasis right outside her window, thanks to the GardenWorks Project.

“She is just filled with joy when she talks about her garden. It’s only on her balcony but it means everything to her. She’s never gardened before but now she’s growing organic vegetables,” said Paula Fraser, president of GardenWorks Project.
Victoria’s crop includes kale, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes and wax beans.

“Her little boy loves the beans,” laughs Fraser. “But for some reason he insists on calling them cucumbers!”

GardenWorks is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to reducing food insecurity in the Western suburbs by providing families in need with home vegetable gardens and educational resources. They are provided with 4′ x 8′ raised beds which can either be placed in the yard or on balconies. Clients are found through local food pantries and agencies. Anyone wishing to participate receives everything they need to grow their own organic crops with expert advice in a three year program. This includes timber boxes, soil, tools, seeds and plants. There are also gardening talks and even recipe ideas.

“Our clients are working hard to help themselves,” Fraser said. “It gives them control over something when their lives may be otherwise chaotic. What we provide doesn’t cost us a lot, but to them it is priceless. Not everyone can afford to buy fresh vegetables, let alone organic ones. I know one family where the children were only fed hot dogs. Now the kids are beyond excited to be growing their own vegetables.”

Fraser started volunteering with the organization in 2013 after selling her successful landscaping business.

“I was looking for something else to do. I like working with plants and people and teaching,” she said. “It may only take me an hour of my time to put in a garden, but if children are involved, I know I am impacting them for the next 50 years.”
Fraser admits she didn’t realize how great the need was until she began to volunteer as a gardening coach.

“The need is immense,” she said. “We have many clients in Naperville and Glen Ellyn and all over the Western suburbs. Some of our clients want to become volunteers themselves they are so grateful. They often find it difficult to accept help. They are working hard just trying to make ends meet.”

GardenWorks is flourishing from a tiny seed of an idea planted by founder and executive director Tina Koral. They are branching out in many new directions this year, raising awareness so they can help more people. So far, they have doubled the number of gardens they provide each year with a total of 76 gardens to date.

This fall they hope to build a gleaning project where volunteers will pick any surplus fruits and vegetables from private homes to donate to the hungry. They are also expanding their education programs in schools.

“I’ve not only been surprised by the level of need, but also at the level of generosity,” said Fraser. “Last spring 65 people signed up to help and we didn’t have enough spots for them. People have been so eager to volunteer, even if they aren’t gardeners themselves. It’s so beautiful. We’re also hoping to have more opportunities for people to volunteer as a family. Even little kids can help.”

On October 17, the GardenWorks Project will be holding Hops for Hunger, a craft beer tasting and fundraiser at Blackberry Market in downtown Glen Ellyn.

For more information about this event and volunteer opportunities visit

Photo by Robyn Sheldon