NORTH TAMPA — A beaming Sarah Combs was the perfect hostess as she welcomed guests into the new Harvest Hope Kitchen. Her longing desire to launch this place had come to fruition.
Combs, the University Area Community Development Corporation director and CEO, was front and center for the recent grand opening of the facility at 13704 N. 20th St. adjacent to the University Area Community Garden that took root about two years ago.
Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods are invited to grow their own produce and, in turn, use the kitchen to learn about and create healthy dishes to their liking.
The UACDC plans to host gardening classes twice monthly and also offer cooking classes at the site.
About eight years ago the county donated the property, which once accomodated the Police Athletic League, to the nonprofit organization.
“It’s been a lifeline into this community,” said Combs, noting the garden itself has brought neighbors together and provided an inexpensive means for them to grow their own fruits and vegetables as well as develop nutritious eating habits.
Sheri Schwab, founder of the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring, was on hand to speak during the kitchen’s grand-opening ceremony. Her organization donated a large commercial-sized refrigerator that covers a large portion of one of its walls.
“I grew up in a family of nine and my mother taught us so much about economical eating,” Schwab told the crowd of gatherers. “Here are the beginnings of the community garden and community kitchen that will benefit many in this area for years to come.”
Westchase Rotary Club member Kelly Lowery Machonis spoke about the partnership the organization formed with the UACDC to help transform and equip what had been an unused building on the property into a state-of-the-art kitchen, complete with a large multi-purpose dining/ classroom space.
Her Rotary group donated several pots and pans along with other kitchen supplies and enlisted the help of some Rotary Interact members from an area high school to paint the facility.
David Whitwam, owner of Whitwam Organics and a man who played a major role in designing and getting the community garden off the ground, also was there for the celebration.
“Food is the thing that brings us all together,” said Whitman, who has designed a multitude of gardens in the Tampa Bay area, including on school grounds. “They’ve been great but whenever there have been leftovers from the gardens that weren’t used they just sat there. This is the first one that addresses that issue.”
Call (813) 558-5212 for details about the gardening and cooking classes.