Finding Sanctuary in the City

Volunteers provide a beautiful and peaceful refuge in the Tenderloin.

In March 2010, a group of neighborhood volunteers—John-Francis Pepka, Tommy Barton, Bob Chase, Collin Welbon, and botanist Jessica Welbon, along with TNDC staff person Siu Han Cheung—planted the first seeds in the flower garden at the corner of Larkin & McAllister Streets. What has grown into TNDC’s People’s Garden began as a community-led project to revitalize a street corner. Led by John-Francis, who began by donating $40 worth of seeds, the group has volunteered more than 3,000 hours since 2010. John-Francis spent hundreds of hours researching what plants would attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, a variety of wild birds, and miscellaneous critters. Bob Chase developed and planted the cacti garden and Tommy Burton also purchased and developed other beautiful parts of the garden. Jessica, the botanist, has advised John-Francis and TNDC on the best plants for the location and crops for seasonal rotations.

In addition to their time, John-Francis and his group have installed security lighting, benches, and donated more than $5,000 worth of garden supplies over the years, including new soil, fertilizer, peat moss, tools, and many other items.

“I started throwing seeds over the fence onto that vacant lot in 2002. Sometimes I was lucky and a few grew. It wasn’t until a wonderful day when I met Mrs. Suzanne Siu Han Cheung in March of 2010 and at that time each of the gardens started to evolve with each of us helping each other. Now I know that I am part of a gift to myself and to the community. These gardens are now part of the history of Urban gardens benefited by and shared with many people of our community and the thousands of tourists. The lonely, homeless, and disconnected people take solace and find spiritual and mental refuge here.” – John-Francis Pepka

The flower garden complements the vegetable garden and provides a sanctuary for hummingbirds, bees, birds and people. John-Francis and his group have built a truly peaceful refuge in the Tenderloin.

Photos by Brook Peterson.

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