Every month, MATTER gives away $250 to someone who wants to help others in their community. Previous You Matter Giveaway winners used the money to buy winter clothing for students with special needs, books for local schools and dental hygiene kits for children at an orphanage.

Our next You Matter Giveaway winner is Mandy Okonek. Prior to starting her current job as Communications Specialist at Tree Trust in April, Mandy managed the Dayton’s Bluff Community Garden in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.

“The garden was once a problem property and a magnet for crime,” explained Mandy. “Diligent residents worked with the Saint Paul Police Department to end the criminal activity at this house and it was condemned and torn down. It sat empty for years until an elder at Cambric (a retirement community) worked with the city to lease the space for a senior-only community garden in 2016.”

In 2018, Mandy took over management of the garden and worked to expand its membership to include families and children, and in turn growing community. “Our garden flourished with children planting their first seeds, community elders, and everyone in between. Together, we cultivated a new relationship with our food. I partnered with Metro State University, The Dayton’s Bluff Library, and local nonprofit Urban Roots to create and organize a seed-to-table community garden class teaching a group of east-side residents how to grow, cultivate, harvest, and cook a healthy meal.”

With the $250 from the You Matter Giveaway, the new garden managers will be able to purchase organic hay for compost/mulch and buy supplies like a lawn mower and other garden tools to maintain the space. “As I step away, being able to give back means the world to me. Thanks to MATTER for making this transition such a positive one, filled with love, beauty, and community. You are helping low-income inner-city residents grow their own food and that’s pretty cool. Thanks!”