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How one woman turned her grief into nourishment for her community

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We recently asked you, all our listeners, to tell us about the people in your communities who enrich the lives of others. You wrote in, and today we introduce you to Jenna Fournel. Almost every Saturday morning, she pulls an old wooden table into her front yard and piles it with produce, about 30 pounds every week.

JENNA FOURNEL: There might be a basket of greens and a basket of beans and a basket of eggplant.

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

There might be peppers, many watermelons, flowers depending on the season. It all comes from Jonah's garden in Alexandria, Va., that she tends with her son Leal and her husband. There's also often fresh cookies and breads, and it's all free. Lisa Delmonico lives down the street.

LISA DELMONICO: It's just lovely. Like, you drive by, and it just looks like this beautiful bounty of generosity.

KELLY: The bounty, however, is rooted in grief. In the fall of 2019, Jenna's youngest son, Oli (ph), got sick with a rare disease. And in a matter of days, he died. He was 8 years old.

SCHMITZ: Jenna and her family were devastated. They realized they needed something to keep their hands and minds busy.

FOURNEL: We suddenly thought about the spirit of Oli.

SCHMITZ: Specifically, Jenna thought about one of Oli's school assignments that was returned to her after he died. He'd been asked to write about what he'd do if he got $100. He said he'd buy supplies for stray dogs.

FOURNEL: And we thought, what's a way to keep that spirit of loving kindness alive in our own lives and for others?

KELLY: Which led to the idea to expand the garden, a garden that Oli had loved, and give away its bounty. Then the pandemic hit, and Jenna and her elder son, Leal, had a lot of time to garden. One day while they were working, they decided to name it.

FOURNEL: Leal had the idea of calling it L&O Farms (ph), so the L for Leal and the O for Oli.

SCHMITZ: Jenna and Leal painted a sign and put out the boys' old picnic table with their produce. Soon, the neighbors caught on.

FOURNEL: Suddenly, the isolation of COVID felt less isolating because we had created this space for getting to know people and building our own - building new stories for ourselves in our lives at a time when we really needed that. And I think everybody did.

KELLY: Neighbors who'd lived near each other for more than a decade met for the first time at that farm table. Now they come every Saturday. Some have even planted their own gardens with seedlings from L&O Farms. Again, neighbor Lisa Delmonico.

DELMONICO: Jenna just started this, like, sort of movement in our neighborhood, and it's, like, the most lovely thing. I feel a sense of community that maybe wasn't the same before, and I really attribute it to Jenna.

KELLY: Jenna Fournel, who channeled her grief and late son's kindness into nourishing her neighbors.

SCHMITZ: And if you want to tell us about someone special in your community, you can reach us on Twitter at @npratc. There's a pinned tweet right at the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OCTOPUS'S GARDEN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) He'd let us in, knows where we've been in his octopus's garden in the shade. I'd ask my friends to come and see. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.