Community Gem: UD grad’s gardening donations help food pantries, spiritual education



Sue Sack said she started giving Catholic Social Services extra eggs from her farm about 30 years ago.

Her efforts have grown to creating gardens at St. Paul Catholic Church and Aullwood Garden MetroPark in Englewood, and the St. Helen Parish in Riverside.

Those sites have donated tons of produce to Dayton-area food pantries, at least one of which said it now is serving “more and more of working families” due to rising inflation.

St. Paul’s 10,000 square foot God’s Garden of Eatin’ alone has given nearly 30 tons of produce to a half dozen food pantries through the years, according to the church.

Sack, a University of Dayton graduate, “feeds people,” Lin Geisel said in nominating the 63-year-old Clay Twp. resident as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

“Sue also feeds people’s hearts and souls as a spiritual director, mentor, teacher, holds zoom classes, often at no cost to participants,” Geisel added.

The Carroll High School graduate who lived as a youth in Kettering said her decades donating food and volunteering led her back to education, culminating in a PhD in theology from UD, the last of her four degrees from that university.

“I think to begin with it opened my eyes to other populations in the area and to the needs of those populations,” Sack said. “It opened my eyes to how we are part of this community, we need each other and we’re in this together.

“I definitely grew spiritually in giving back in this way. That’s a huge part of it for me … It led me to people who not only felt the same way, but it also led me back to school,” she added.

Sack has formed the Lilac Woods Spiritual Formation, which provides spiritual accompaniment, grief support and formation opportunities, according to its website.

The opportunities Sack has helped provide clients of the Northmont FISH pantry through food donations from the St. Paul and Aullwood gardens — and her own property — are significant, especially in today’s economy, said Emily Eck of FISH.

“The clientele that we’re seeing in this moment are working families that need help making ends meet,” Eck said. “Some of that is more highlighted right now because inflation and gas prices and grocery prices … we’re all feeling that. But folks who were having trouble in the first place are struggling a little more at this point.”

The working families “have decent jobs. They have good jobs,” Eck said. “They just need some help (filling) in the gaps.”

Sack said she moved to Kettering when she was 8, but “I knew by the time I was a teenager I wanted to live a rural lifestyle. My parents and my grandparents were all big gardeners.”

Sack and her husband Larry have four sons: Dan, Joe, Tim and Andy. Dan’s 1999 Eagle Scout project was building the first shed for their garden, which is “at least a half an acre … probably closer to three quarters of an acre,” Sack said.

Donating food from there and the other three gardens, she added, “is a way to put feet on my faith. To put it on the ground and do something with it.

“From the time I was a little girl I loved to garden. I saw the sacred in the earth. And so, it’s a way to share that world view with others. We are also very much about living as sustainably as we can,” Sack said.

“And my feeling has always been ‘Hey, I am capable. I have the skills to grow food. There’s no reason we should not be doing this.’ … It’s also about teaching others how to do this,” she added. “And we have this huge need in our community. If I can help fulfill that need, I’m going to do that.”

Eck said ‘Sue’s a great community partner. Her heart is in just the right spot … She wants folks to experience fresh food and she wants it to be in hands that need it. And she works very, very hard to make that happen.”

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