In a kick-off ceremony observing the start of National Recovery month, Santa Barbara’s Salvation Army brass held a high-octane meet ‘n’ greet ceremony Thursday afternoon to announce the start of a new organic gardening program for the shelter’s residents, as well as training classes in organic and vegan cooking to give the residents job skills suited for the Santa Barbara market. Already two neighborhood restaurants specializing in organic cuisine—Adama and The Alchemy—have pledged to buy produce grown in the Salvation Army garden, just planted behind the organization’s Hospitality House center on the 400 block of Chapala Street.

Salvation Army boardmember Sharon Byrne said the organic cooking skills taught under this program will help residents form businesses of their own or be more competitive at landing jobs in Santa Barbara’s workforce.

Major Philip Smith of the Salvation Army likened the gardening venture to the Salvation Army’s core mission: “Not only is recovering life organic,” he said, “it’s what we do.” Although the program is just now getting started, Smith pointed to the two new backyard plots and proclaimed, “That’s where it’s going to start. We’re in for a wild ride.” On hand was a healthy representation of Santa Barbara’s movers and shakers: Anne Dietrich from the Santa Barbara County Drug Alcohol and Mental Health Services, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, City Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss, County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, and former state assemblymember Pedro Nava.

Two former addicts spoke to the crowd, thanking the Salvation Army for helping them recover. A man named Tim explained how he became “committed to change” after checking himself into the Salvation Army back in 1983. “I used to be ‘committed’ to my addiction,” he said, “and the only ‘change’ was the spare change I begged for on the street. Daniel Harris expressed gratitude to the Salvation Army, which helped him achieve sobriety 18 months ago. When he checked in on October 15, 2010, Harris said, he was homeless and the only things he owned were the clothes in his bag. Today, he’s holding down a steady job, lives in a nice apartment, and owns a very large big-screen TV. “It’s amazing what you can do with your money when you don’t use drugs or alcohol,” he said.

In keeping with the Salvation Army’s Christian traditions, many of the remarks were overtly religious in nature. In that vein, Mayor Schneider noted that Thursday’s ceremony fell right in the middle of the High Holy Days of the Jewish tradition. “It’s not accidental that times of recovery, times of harvest, and times of renewal all happen at the same time,” she said.


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