On a breezy spring morning, Carol Sawicki crouched in front of a raised garden bed as she tenderly dug up clusters of tiny lettuce seedlings and transplanted them to other parts of the garden.
Within a few months, those sprouts will have grown into a leafy bounty to be harvested and placed on the dinner table at Our Lady’s Inn maternity home in Defiance. Other veggies, including tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and onions, eventually will be harvested and used to make nutritious meals for the women and children who live there.
A group of volunteers with the effort are some of the same women behind Ring Around a Recipe, a cookbook including nearly 250 recipes, garnishes, creative table presentation ideas, serving concepts and chef’s secrets. The recipes are handwritten on index cards and secured with a large metal ring — hence the name Ring Around a Recipe.
Proceeds from the cookbook sales go toward the volunteer gardening efforts at Our Lady’s Inn in Defiance, which provides housing and support to pregnant mothers and their dependent children. (The home also has a second location in south St. Louis.)
Garden volunteers plan, plant and weed the vegetable gardens and surrounding flower beds on the property to provide a harvest of fresh produce for daily meals. Proceeds from the cookbook sales help purchase mulch, straw, starter plants, seeds and other supplies.
A new life for Ring Around a Recipe
Ring Around a Recipe originated in the 1990s, when friends Donna Harper and Therese Gabriel made and sold the cookbooks at a pop-up boutique in north St. Louis County. Their endeavor was featured by local media, including regular appearances on KSDK Channel 5’s “Show Me St. Louis” program. Harper and Gabriel also joined with several other friends, including Jean Siebelts, to make and serve recipes from the cookbook at the boutique.
Several years ago, long after the Ring Around a Recipe’s popularity had waned, Siebelts proposed bringing it back, this time to support Our Lady’s Inn. Several women had been volunteering their time there and thought it would be a good way to support the organization’s pro-life mission.
“It’s taken on a whole new life,” said Harper, a member of Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie.
The mission of Our Lady’s Inn is to help women choose life for their children and to help them develop a stable future. The women work with a case manager, nurse, counselor, child advocate and other staff to address individual goals as they work toward self-sufficiency.
Residents participate in workshops on parenting, nutrition, employment readiness, educational preparedness and stress management, among other topics. They can live at Our Lady’s Inn for up to about a year and receive support through the aftercare program for two more years as they transition into other housing.
Harper started volunteering at Our Lady’s Inn by clearing and maintaining the landscaped beds in the front of the property. Several layers of rock and old landscaping fabric needed to be removed to make way for flowering bushes and other plants.
“Do you know how amazing it is to have that front garden look so good when you see (the moms) arriving and they look at those gardens?” she said.
Several years ago, a group helped rebuild the raised beds in the backyard, which had rotted over the years. Residents occasionally help maintain the gardens, mostly with watering duties. That’s been an opportunity for volunteers and residents to get to know one another.
“It’s been good to connect with them and learn what their future plans might be,” Harper said.
The pandemic paused gardening volunteers, but it’s picking up again, including among retirees and high school teens. New volunteers are always needed, Harper added.
Sawicki joined the gardening volunteers at Our Lady’s Inn, but she quickly added that it doesn’t feel like work. As a longtime gardener, “this is my playtime,” she said. “I was contemplating where God could use me, and I love gardening, so I figured I could help the community here.”
>> About Our Lady’s Inn
Our Lady’s Inn is a maternity home and aftercare support program for pregnant women and their dependent children who are homeless. With locations in St. Louis City and St. Charles County, Our Lady’s Inn offers shelter in a private room setting while providing for their immediate and basic needs. Case management with individualized services to address personal health, educational and psychosocial needs is also offered.
Learn how to donate, volunteer and support the programs of Our Lady’s Inn at www.ourladysinn.org.
Call (314) 351-4590 for services in St. Louis or (636) 398-5375 for services in St. Charles County.
Volunteer at Our Lady’s Inn
There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at Our Lady’s Inn.
Volunteers are needed to provide child care while the mothers attend classes, clean resident rooms, organize the food pantry and clothing donations, make meals, clerical work and property maintenance. Others have provided specialty services to residents, including manicures and hair cuts.
Volunteers who interact with residents must undergo a background check. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit ourladysinn.org/volunteer.
Ring Around a Recipe
Ring Around a Recipe includes a personal collection of timeless recipes, clever garnishes, fun table presentations, chef’s secrets and creative serving ideas. The cookbook includes about 250 recipes divided into 10 chapters and held together by a large metal ring. Chapters include appetizers, soups, salads, Sunday suppers, desserts, pastas, breakfast foods and beverages.
A full cookbook is $45, with individual chapters sold for $7 each. All proceeds from sales support Our Lady’s Inn programs and welcome bags for newly arrived mothers. Volunteers are sought to help maintain the gardens on the property of Our Lady’s Inn in Defiance.
To order a cookbook or learn more about volunteering with the gardening efforts, visit www.ringaroundarecipe.com.