Hans Kumar was searching online for a volunteering opportunity. Repair the World Pittsburgh’s website popped up.
“This stuck out as something interesting and fun,” Kumar, 25, said.
After registering with the East End-based organization, Kumar traveled to the Sheridan Avenue Orchard and Garden. Kumar enjoyed the activity so much that he returned throughout the summer. Every Tuesday night, between 5:30 and 7:30, he joined other Repair the World volunteers. The group weeded, maintained the orchard and created a brick path for people to walk along when visiting the space.
“I had never done this much gardening before,” he said.
Thanks to the other volunteers and Repair the World staffers, Kumar had a positive and fun experience, he said. It was also important to him, though, that the organization promotes “a good cause.”
“They are growing all these different fruits and giving them to a shelter and trying to refurbish what was a terrible looking piece of land [and convert it into] something for the community,” Kumar said.
Work on the garden began about a decade ago. Since then, hundreds of volunteers have transitioned the lot into a space with more than 20 fruit trees and 18 garden beds. Weeks ago, Pittsburgh Steelers rookies William Dunkle, Connor Heyward, Kenny Pickett, Mark Robinson, DeMarvin Leal, Jaylen Warren and George Pickens, volunteered at the garden as well.
“They worked on the path to make it more accessible for the community to come and learn about food justice and participate in making food more available to the community while building relationships with each other,” Jules Mallis, Repair the World’s executive director, said in a statement.
Volunteering efforts at the garden ensure nearly 500 pounds of produce are grown and donated to the East End Cooperative Food pantry.
Tending the earth is one way Repair the World seeks to better the community. Honoring the memory of those murdered on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life building is another. Between Oct. 16 and Nov. 6, the organization partnered with the 10.27 Healing Partnership to organize commemorative service and volunteer events in memory of those who were killed four years ago.
Whether by donating blood at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh or packing medical supplies with Global Links, each of the service sites and projects reflected the interests and causes dear to the 11 Jews murdered at the Tree of Life building, according to representatives of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.
Repair the World “mobilizes young Jews to serve, builds capacity for nonprofits and deepens connection across lines of difference,” according to Repair the World officials. Those goals led Sarah E. Scherk, 29, to Pittsburgh seven years ago.
In 2015, Scherk relocated here to become a Repair the World Fellow. After completing the yearlong program, she found other ways to stay connected with the organization. Since September, she has served as a member of Repair the World’s service corps.
Service corps members work with local nonprofits up to 10 hours per week, said Annie Dunn, senior program associate at Repair the World. Along with aiding nearby organizations, members earn a small stipend and benefit from learning opportunities.
As part of the program, Scherk works with Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, an organization that “provides resources and community support to restaurant and hospitality workers who have lost financial, housing, food and healthcare security.”
Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid is run by “an all-volunteer board and one paid staff person, who is managing all the logistics of the food distribution program and all the volunteers,” Scherk said. Having a “regular volunteer, who knows the organization, and the rhythm of the work, can really free up their staff person to do other things.”
Even after the service corps program ends on Dec. 2, Scherk plans on continuing to volunteer with Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid.
“I have the time and it’s a way for me to feel part of my local community, to be part of something greater than myself,” she said.
Scherk credits Repair the World with introducing her to the organization and said she hopes others are inspired to follow a similarly meaningful path.
“It can be super rewarding," Scherk said. "You can make a difference.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.