A North Charleston school is joining local churches and other city-wide efforts to battle food insecurity in the state's third-largest municipality.

Students from Palmetto Scholars Academy have donated more than 100 pounds of produce to local congregations and food banks since establishing a garden in April. The effort is part of Katie's Krops, a national initiative that invites students to grow produce from school-based gardens to give back to the community and participate in feeding programs at houses of worship.

“It’s one of those things where you might not think you’re super lucky, then you see all of the other options you could have had," said Anna Dale, 13. "You’re more thankful for everything.”

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Anna Dale, 13, harvests green peppers. The school garden at Palmetto Scholars Academy is affiliated with Katie's Krops. 

Dale, who'd been actively involved in a Katie's Krops garden in Summerville for several years, recently received a $500 grant to bring the initiative to the North Charleston school on Dorchester Road. The effort also received $1,000 worth of gardening tools from Corona Tools.

Around 50 PSA students and several other volunteers worked to establish a 14-bed garden filled with peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. Volunteers come several mornings a week to work the garden that's equipped with a drip-irrigation system.

So far, the initiative has mainly been figuring out what works and what doesn't, teachers said. They hope to expand the garden next school year to include more fruits.

In addition to giving students an on-campus opportunity to obtain volunteer hours, the garden allows students to cultivate their skills. PSA's curriculum includes researched-based courses designed to meet the needs of a gifted and talented student body, teachers said. 

Because the garden is student-run, youth gain valuable skills, such as budgeting and time management, all while helping those in need.

“It’s real important to teach students how to use their gifts to help their community,” said PSA instructor Terra Poetzscher.

When Stacy Stagliano's daughter Katie Stagliano started the initiative more than a decade ago, Stacy never imagined it would grow to include 100 gardens nationwide.

Today, in South Carolina alone, there are at least 10 gardens at local schools and private homes. At some schools, students working the garden take produce to their own families.

"It's just amazing how close to home and hands-on it can be," Stacy said.

The garden at PSA has helped support food initiatives at a number of churches in the tri-county region, including an LGBTQ-inclusive North Charleston congregation on the front-lines of addressing social justice issues.

Students donate boxes of food every Wednesday to Metropolitan Community Church of Charleston's food pantry. Donations help the 50-member congregation serve fresh foods to around 400 clients a month.

Pastor David Smith said healthy foods help encourage better eating habits in the community. The church hopes to eventually offer recipes for items like kale.

Smith said feeding the hungry falls in line with the church's broader attempt to reach marginalized communities. Almost all of the church's membership identify as LGBTQ and the house of worship serves as a safe-haven for LGTBQ parishioners who've been removed from other congregations. He said social justice issues, such as addressing food insecurity, racism and discrimination, are intertwined with the gospel.

“I do think LGBTQI people are more cognizant of the needs of others because the way they felt their own needs have been oppressed," Smith said.

Addressing food insecurity is top priority for many Charleston area houses of worship and nonprofit organizations, particularly those on North Charleston's south end. The area is known as a "food desert" because it lacks a full-scale grocery store in walking distance for many residents. Churches, including Cherokee Place United Methodist and organizations, including Fresh Future Farm, aim to provide fresh produce for residents in the nearby low-income communities.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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