Growing her character and food, local Girl Scout wins organization's top award

aheymann@vagazette.com

It was a sunny afternoon when Megan Gillespie, a senior at Jamestown High School, walked into the vegetable garden. She took stock of what was almost ready to pick and decided to harvest after Thanksgiving — the need for food donations would be greater then.

Gillespie’s garden has fed low-income and homeless people in the area, but it has also helped her earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor and achievement a Girl Scout can earn.

The Gold Award requires scouts to identify an issue in the community and carry out a project to address it. Gillespie said she found the issue she wanted to help solve during a sermon at her church, Saint Bede Catholic Church.

“Our pastor was preaching about the homeless in Williamsburg and how there’s a high desire for more food that is canned and fresh options,” Gillespie said.

This hit close to home for Gillespie, who has psoriasis, which requires her to eat healthy food to combat the symptoms of the illness. She said eating well was important to her, and she wanted to make sure everyone else, especially those who needed it, had access to healthy food as well.

So Gillespie and other volunteers started a garden at St. Bede to grow fresh produce. Monsignor Timothy Keeney, a pastor at the church, said Gillespie came to him with the idea and organized volunteers herself.

“(Gillespie) really has taken the lead on this and has gotten at least two crops a year,” Keeney said.

Members of the community helped her build and run the garden by donating their time, money and labor.

“We started with about 40 people who would volunteer their time, and we’ve had a pretty steady group of people going on with that,” Gillespie said.

Right now, Gillespie said the garden is growing cabbage, collard greens, carrots and beets. Once harvested, the produce will be given out to the homeless.

“(The garden) has been very impactful at the (Williamsburg) House of Mercy, where (the produce) is distributed,” Keeney said.

Through helping others, Gillespie earned herself a special place in the Girl Scout community. Less than 6 percent of eligible Girl Scouts nationwide earn the award, and now she is one of them.

“She not only has a good sense of self, but a strong sense of mission, which is very admirable,” Keeney said.

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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