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There is an American Jewish University classroom that has no desks, chalkboards or laptops. A Simi Valley garden is a place where the lesson is about getting better food to local pantries.
"Our food pantries over the last year have seen a 40-percent increase in the number of people needing help feeding themselves," said Dr. Gabe Goldman, Experimental and Service Learning, American Jewish University. "The donations to these food pantries have also decreased by about the same amounts."
Dr. Gabe Goldman has been running the university's "Helping Hands Garden" for the past three years. It relies on AJU students and alumni to plant, nurture and harvest a wide variety of produce, which they donate to local charities. Goldman says that the one garden will yield a half-ton of food this year. It will also yield countless lessons on community involvement.
"Just giving back, helping people out. It's your community. You want to help others," said Daniel Touserkani, American Jewish University student.
"It's a process that nourishes the students and nourishes the community," said Professor Miriyam Glazer, American Jewish University.
The university wants to grow the "Helping Hands" program. They hope gardens like theirs will turn up all over Southern California, bringing communities together and helping to feed the hungry.
Goldman says all that is needed is a simple 10- by 12-foot space, an hour per week of volunteer weeding, and some watering. With enough people taking part, the gardens could potentially yield tons of fresh, organic, healthy food for needy families.
"Each of these gardens can produce 20 to 50 pounds of food in a summer. Our goal is initially to have 100 of these gardens with a ton of fresh food going straight to the food bank," said Dr. Goldman.
Goldman says they plan to double that goal in another year.
"They've got to see the connections between their hands, their hearts and their minds," said Dr. Glazer. "You've got to get your hands dirty."