Greenhouse rises to grow year-round produce for food pantry

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The Villarreal family pitched in on the Bethlehem House of Bread greenhouse on July 10 as it got closer to completion. From left is dad Mauricio, mom Vikki, Elden and her brother Mateo. The Bethlehem House of Bread is hosting an open house celebration for the greenhouse on Sept. 9. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life
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Bethlehem House of Bread, a Pathways ministry of Tigard United Methodist Church, is celebrating its 10th anniversary in July, and the Metzger-based food pantry has continued to grow and expand its programs over the years.

Elden Villarreal stands in front of the greenhouse wearing their Girl Scout vest with many badges.

The food pantry is open three days a week for both in-pantry shopping and a Grab & Go Room, and no one is turned away. Every month it provides free food to nearly 800 families, or about 3,000 people. A few years ago, raised garden plots became available for rent to community members to grow their own vegetables, and now, thanks to an innovative and industrious Girl Scout, Elden Villarreal, folks will be able to grow produce year ‘round.

Elden’s mom, Vikki Villarreal, explained that Elden, a Tigard High School senior who uses plural pronouns, is building a greenhouse out of recycled windows and wood for their Girl Scout Gold Award, which involve at least 80 hours of direct leadership.

On May 20, Elden, along with their dad Mauricio, their dog Toby and five friends, were busy at work on the greenhouse, located next to the main pantry building. Eldon, who joined the Girl Scouts in second grade and is now in their 10th year in the organization, said they started volunteering at the pantry 5 ½ years ago, helping clients shop and packing to-go boxes.

Taking a brief break from the greenhouse-building project are (from left) Noel Carey, Mauricio Villarreal, Elden Villarreal, Samantha Houston, twins Ash and Dust Buckley, on the ladder in the rear, Phillip King, and in front, dog Toby. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life

About 1 ½ years ago, when Elden was a sophomore, they were talking to the pantry’s pastoral director, Linda Dove, about their Gold Award and how it could benefit Bethlehem House of Bread, and the duo came up with the idea of a greenhouse.

“I wanted to make it as sustainable as possible and am using recycled lumber and windows,” Elden said. “I also got new lumber with a gift card and monetary donations, and my troop 45060 helped. I didn’t need to fund-raise at all, and I started collecting materials.”

Thanks to a retired contractor, Rex Bosse, and dad Mauricio, who is an electrician, Elden was able to come up with a design for the greenhouse that is more windows than walls and includes a vinyl window that can be opened; it will also have a pressure-treated lumber floor, PC patio roofing and two counters running the length of the building interior to hold growing plants. The greenhouse will be painted white using paint left over from the window trim.

“(Rex) has been the biggest help in planning out the greenhouse design and the materials needed,” Elden said.

Mom Vikki emailed that Elden was very busy “finding and collecting old windows and wood from all over the Portland area, organizing a multitude of volunteers to scrape off lead paint and repaint all the windows outside in the cold for over 20 hours.”

She added, “Elden is and has been an amazing leader in their community, in school and in Girl Scouts.”

On April 15 the gravel base was installed, and volunteers have been working most every weekend since. “Gold Award projects must be completed by September after you graduate from high school,” Elden said. “A lot of people were doubting I could make this happen within the time frame, and I had to overcome obstacles. Linda (Dove) has been very supportive and checks in periodically. She tells me she is excited.”

Elden expects the greenhouse to be completed and turned over to Bethlehem House of Bread “probably the first week of June,” she said.

Their plans for the future include being on a pre-med track in college, and they added, “My dream job is to be a pediatrician. I want to major in biochemistry and molecular biology.”

In the meantime, Elden is busy with high school and serving as “president” of their Gold Award project. “My dad is vice president, and I’m leading and delegating,” they said.

Mauricio took a short break from cutting lumber to say he is volunteering on the project “because I want her to be happy and help her accomplish what she wants to do.”

Eldon got in the last word, saying, “I’m glad I can help with the growth of this place.”

Bethlehem House of Bread, which was formed through a merger of Tigard and Metzger’s United Methodist Churches, is located at 9055 S.W. Locust St. The food pantry is open Sundays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Tuesdays from 4 to 6 p.m.

For more information, call 503-639-3181, Ext. 1, or email hello@bethlehemhouseofbread.org.

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