Reaping What They Sow

It takes a lot of food to serve 850 meals a day, but that kind of volume is routine at Lakeside Men’s Emergency Shelter, the short-term housing arm of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) and the largest emergency shelter in Ohio. Now, thanks to the Cuyahoga Land Bank and other collaborators, the nearly-400 men who stay there will be growing some of their food in a new urban garden adjacent to LMM’s facility.
“We had our eye on it for a while,” says Michael Sering, LMM’s Director of Housing and Shelter, referring to the parcel on which the former Chinese restaurant at 2138 St. Clair Avenue was located. LMM officials had approached the owners about donating the property back in 2009. The building was vacant then—but it wasn’t tax-delinquent, and the family wanted to sell.
Fast-forward to last summer. Two years had passed and no one had purchased the long, narrow property, so Gus Frangos, President and General Counsel of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, approached them on LMM’s behalf—and this time they were ready to donate the property as a charitable contribution. The family donated the property to the Land Bank, which will demolish the long-abandoned building and donate the site to LMM.
“The men in the shelter volunteer for work experience with us. Last year, they donated 150,000 hours of service,” Sering says, “so they’ll be getting more than food, they’ll have some education and job readiness as well. They’re driving the project.”  And, this value-added feature of education and promoting job-readiness made this a suitable donation property to LMM.
The residents have one additional bonus: Cuyahoga Land Bank staff were so impressed with the men’s initiative, they chose the shelter as their annual charity. “We asked Michael Sering what they might need, and he told us they fight a lot of frostbite” says Cheryl Stephens, Director of Acquisition, Disposition and Development at the Land Bank. “So we all pitched in and donated hats and gloves to the shelter.”
And when the ground softens, the heavy equipment will pull out and the men will prepare the soil. A grant from Neighborhood Connections helped purchase a fence that will protect the garden from pests, and experts from Holden Arboretum and Cleveland Botanical Garden will be on hand for technical assistance. “We’re excited,” Sering says, “and hopeful for a planting soon.”