This spring, members of the Wheeling Fire Department will trade in fire hoses for garden hoses - and in doing so, they hope to cultivate a stronger relationship with the community.
Stacked inside the South Wheeling firehouse on Jacob Street are 20 8-foot by 4-foot wooden frames that soon will become the firefighters' newest service project: a garden that will help feed the hungry and add a splash of color to an otherwise drab empty lot. The garden will officially open with a ceremony set for 9 a.m. April 26.
Wheeling fire Lt. Cianelli said he and his wife, Christy, got their first taste of community gardening when they adopted a plot at the South Wheeling Alive Garden, located across from Pulaski Park. So, with when he and his fellow firefighters were kicking around ideas for a new service project, a vision began to emerge.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling fire Lt. Eric Cianelli prepares to join his fellow firefighters in starting a community garden next to the South Wheeling firehouse on Jacob Street.
The lots next door to the fire station where the garden will be located are owned by the city and the Contraguerro family, whose business, Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration, is also donating supplies to the effort, according to Cianelli.
The firefighters plan to donate produce from the gardens to the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, and may try to start a farmers' market with the proceeds to be donated to charity.
They and members of the nearby Wheeling-Prayer Hill Church of God will tend several of the plots, but Cianelli said there is plenty of space available for anyone who wants to get involved. The 8-foot by 4-foot wood frames are stacked inside the fire station, waiting to be claimed.
Gardening, Cianelli said, is a rewarding activity that doesn't require an enormous time commitment - maybe a few hours per week.
"Pretty much nature takes care of the rest," he said. "It's exciting to see your plot full of dirt grow into something healthy and sustainable."
Connie Hogue of the Green Wheeling Initiative and Danny Swan of the East Wheeling Community Gardens group deserve much credit for helping the firefighters get things going in South Wheeling, Cianelli said.
In many cases, firefighters' interaction with the public comes during times of intense crisis, but Cianelli hopes the new garden will help them connect with their neighbors on a different level.
He said firefighters lead busy lives, many holding down second jobs and coaching their children's sports teams.
"Yet they still find time to get involved in these kinds of community projects," he said, noting IAFF Local 12's past work at the soup kitchen, reading to elementary school classes and volunteering at Youth Services System's Winter Freeze Shelter. "They take a lot of pride in being able to help the community."
Cianelli invites anyone who wants more information to call 304-312-7914, or check out the South Wheeling Community Garden page on Facebook.