Homefirst plans to build winter greenhouse Terrill eighth grader raises funds for project to extend growing season

by Sara Lombardi and Olivia Paladino
Homefirst, a Plainfield-based organization dedicated to providing housing and support to the homeless, has helped to feed hundreds of people via its community gardens. A new greenhouse will soon be installed in Scotch Plains, allowing produce to grow through the year.

The weather in New Jersey makes it nearly impossible to provide fresh produce at the end of summer.  Avital Abraham, an eighth-grade student at Terrill Middle School, is trying to address this problem by raising funds to purchase the greenhouse and supplies as part of her Bat Mitzvah project.
“It was really fun being able to help people and see the impact in even the smallest things. Homefirst is a really great organization,” said Abraham.
Located on Mountain Ave. in Scotch Plains and on Watchung Ave. in Plainfield, the two gardens offer organic, locally grown herbs, fruits and vegetables to families in need. This summer alone, the organization was able to harvest nearly 800 pounds of crops, which were distributed among 150 local families.
Homefirst also hosts cooking classes designed to teach parents how to prepare nutritious meals and to encourage a healthy lifestyle. The cookinglessons use fresh produce from the gardens.
In addition to their gardens, Homefirst grants permanent housing to those with disabilities and AIDS/HIV, and transitional housing for homeless people throughout central New Jersey looking to get back on their feet.
“We have a great staff that is highly skilled in social services and is really having a great impact on the families,” said Marybeth Lapham, co-chair of the Homefirst developing committee.
Homefirst’s Family Success Center aims to create a self-sufficient community by teaching life skills and providing various social services to families.
Here, parents can take  tax and budgeting classes, students can use the computers to do homework, and children can watch television and play games together in the Youth Success Center. The idea is to create strong families and neighborhoods where children and adults can thrive.
This organization relies on volunteers and donations to operate, and encourages students to get involved. There are many opportunities to volunteer at the community gardens during the summer, but monetary donations are also important.
“At times, we need a lot of volunteers, and we hope to get the word out about that kind of thing, but definitely a big need is always going to be the money to keep the programs running,” said Lapham.
In November, Homefirst will launch its new, improved website, where interested parties can find volunteer opportunities.
“It’s eye opening. You realize how fortunate you are and how much you really need to share what you have,” says Abraham of her experience with Homefirst.
For more information about Homefirst, visit www.homefirstinc.org.