A growing mission

A growing mission

Founder of Our Giving Hands Garden recognized by state for fighting community hunger

By Brett Auten

Debbra Arndt has never met a stranger. She doesn’t care about the color of your skin or which aisle of the political landscape you stand.

Her motto is pretty simple; if you are hungry and in need, she’ll feed you.

“People think it’s more difficult than it really is,” she said. “Most people have no idea what it is like to be truly hungry or sleep under a bridge or on concrete.”

Arndt has been living this motto for several years and over the last five, she has been making a difference here locally, so much so the Missouri House of Representatives presented her with a proclamation last month in tribute to her cause.

She was given the proclamation at the O’Fallon courthouse during a regular monthly meeting.

“I didn’t know what it was about or what I was there for,” Arndt said. “I felt kinda silly. This is not why I do it. I was a little overwhelmed.”

The proclamation states, in part, that: 

“Whereas, the members of the Missouri House of Representatives welcome with pleasure the opportunity to recognize a remarkable Missouri citizen whose efforts and accomplishments have made her a source of inspiration to all those around her …  Debbra Arndt, a resident of O’Fallon, Missouri, has distinguished herself as the founder of Our Giving Hands Garden and the mission of Our Giving Hands Garden is to supply fresh food to elderly individuals who struggle with the cost of food … Arndt, who has a history of feeding the homeless, has spent more than $5,000 on Our Giving Hands Garden and encourages others to donate a portion of their produce to help elderly who may be living in poverty … Arndt can take pride in knowing that she has consistently given one hundred percent to all those activities in which she has so generously and enthusiastically participated.”

Arndt has been featured in numerous articles and television news segments since receiving the proclamation.

“All of this is going to push me farther and harder,” she said. “The goal is to get others to do the same in the communities they live in.”

Arndt returned to O’Fallon five years ago from Mount Vernon, Illinois and she brought back with her a cause that has been the guiding force in her life for over 25 years; feeding the low income elderly. 

A small yard at Arndt’s home – located near the intersection of I-70 and TR Hughes Boulevard – is stacked and packed with 500 plants that produce tomatoes, peppers, green beans, strawberries, squash and more.

Arndt then takes her bounty and distributes them to the doorsteps of the elderly in the region many who have no family to reach out to for help.

“The elderly in our country do not have it very good when it comes to getting food stamp assistance,” Arndt said in a Community News story published last year. “I have helped them fill out paperwork applications for help to buy food and if they are approved they usually get under $20 a month. This is so wrong. I don’t think many people are aware of the fact the elderly are living in poverty all around us.”

Arndt knows all about hardship.  As a four-year-old, she was left at a St. Louis orphanage and would go on to bounce around 14 different foster homes where often there were 10 kids or more under one roof. Arndt would go on to have a career as a geriatric nurse where her motivation to help outside the workforce included a socks for seniors program for those in low income housing. 

Arndt returned to the St. Louis region after her husband Dewayne passed away. She was determined to continue their Grow a Garden and Feed Elders in your Neighborhood program that the pair started in Southern Illinois. 

A lifelong advocate and a believer in community service, Arndt has volunteered numerous times at local schools to show students the what, where, why, and when of vegetable growth. 

What veggies that don’t make it into the homes of the needy, Arndt uses them to make jams and jellies that she sells. Those profits and donations are the only monetary forms that keeps Arndt’s garden going. 

Arndt encourages anyone who is interested in helping her cause or growing a garden of their own to reach out to her at ourgivinghandsgarden2009@yahoo.com.

And if you would like to contribute financially, a Go Fund Me page was set up in honor of Arndt and her work, located at: www.gofundme.com/OurGivingHandsGarden.

CUTLINE: Photo by Ray Rockwell Debbra Arndt (left), founder of Our Giving Hands Garden received a proclamation July 27 from the State of Missouri. Missouri State Representative Nick Schroer presented the proclamation.