Project to benefit Columbia veterans wins a national grant competition

Related Story

COLUMBIA – A check for $25,000 will be awarded Tuesday to pay for a project improving a park to benefit veterans.

The money is from a grant and will be presented Tuesday morning to the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture in partnership with the Columbia Housing Authority and the Patriot Place Apartments.

This project is a part of the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program, which allows the public to submit ideas for local causes in communities. The public also submits votes on which options it would like to receive the money.

$25,000 from the grant program will pay for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture adding a greenhouse, an orchard, a walking path, and a dog park to Patriot Park.

The park is two acres of green space and woods adjacent to the Patriot Place Apartments and the Welcome Home Shelter.

Patriot Place is an apartment complex for veterans and Welcome Home is a local shelter for homeless veterans.

The money will also help staff from the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to assist the veterans living at the apartments with gardening.

The gardens and orchard in Patriot Park will help provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the veterans living at Patriot Place and serve the homeless veterans at Welcome Home.

Dennis Rand, a resident of Patriot Place, served in the Marine Corps and is excited about the improvements.

He said his dog will love the dog park, but that’s not the only aspect of the upgraded park he will be using.

“We’ve got so many people here that is probably going to be interested by saving money by growing their own, now I’m growing watermelons, I love ‘em,” Rand said.

Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority, said this all started with an application submission that described the project.

“We were looking at ways to expand the gardens at Patriot Park and to include an orchard out there, and so when we came across this grant it seemed like a natural fit for us to try to go for it,” Steinhaus said.

Billy Polansky, the executive director of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, is excited to help the veterans create a garden of their own and said the grant funding will all be used in 2017.

“We’ll start gardening in those garden beds and we’ll plant the fruit trees and put in other features in the spring and so by the end of the year we’ll have a full gardening season under our belt,” Polansky said.

Kevin Gamble, public affairs specialist with State Farm Insurance, said the competition in the Neighborhood Assist Program is always very intense, but in the 5 years of the program he hasn’t seen anything exactly like this project, which he thinks makes receiving the grant extra special.

“It’s a great opportunity for us here in Columbia. In the five years of this program, this is the first winner we’ve had in Columbia, and so we are very happy to have a Columbia winner and very happy to be supporting this particular program and to help support these men and women who have sacrificed so much in the service of their country,” Gamble said.

The project supported by this grant will provide the tools, materials and training necessary for the residents to be self sufficient with the garden and make use of the park.

This year, there were 2,000 total entries from across the country and students in the State Farm Youth Advisory Board reviewed the submissions and chose 200 finalists for the public to vote on.

This nationwide online voting contest was 10 days long.

Members of the public chose the top 40 applications for the causes they would like a $25,000 grant to support.

“Throughout the whole competition we were always in the top 20, and in the last week we were in the top 10 so we really appreciate the way the community stepped up and voted for our project,” Steinhaus said.

There were 1.8 million votes cast this year and grants were awarded to causes in 25 states around the country.

“Missouri had the best results of any state in this year’s competition, winning five of the 40 grants that were awarded,” Gamble said.

The State Farm philanthropic budget comes from the foundation that sets money aside for this program and other projects.

The neighborhood assist program awards 1 million dollars in grants each year.

“It’s been great to see the work that’s being done in local communities all over the state of Missouri and now it’s great to have one here in Columbia finally bring one of these grants home,” Gamble said.

Resident Dennis Rand said he thinks the veterans are deserving of this grant.

“I don’t care what branch of service any person served in, they served in it because they love their country and now it’s time to see their country love them,” Rand said.