Service in a Pandemic: Tess Balsley, ND AmeriCorps at Tikkun Farm

Service in a Pandemic: Tess Balsley, ND AmeriCorps at Tikkun Farm

Notre Dame AmeriCorps Members are lay people working to further the educational mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, both here and abroad. They serve in 24 cities and in Haiti and number more than 400 people. Their situations, as with most of us, have unexpectedly taken a turn due to the pandemic. Yet their work goes on. Over the next several weeks we’ll highlight some of their stories.

Although Tess grew up a couple of neighborhoods south of Tikkun Farm, she had never heard of it before being connected to the Farm through the Notre Dame AmeriCorps program. Tikkun Farm is a 3.5-acre farm in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. Tikkun is a Hebrew word meaning “repair” or “restore”. Through their programs and services, Tikkun Farm provides a space to “repair” the whole person through community connections, gardening, hospitality, and health/healing classes. The small farm has everything they need, from a barn, several alpacas, and chickens to garden plots, a workspace that used to be a coffee roaster, and space for hospitality, where the founders, Mary Laymon and Greg York also live.

When Tess started, she helped with the overall operations of the farm, from preparing for classes to welcoming visitors to the space. However, once the lockdown began, Tikkun Farm had to change its focus. Tess, Mary, and other volunteers developed recipes and assembled meal kits, with all the ingredients prepped and portioned, for people to take home, using the ingredients available at the Mt Healthy Alliance Food Bank, since it always has an abundance of produce that people didn’t take because they didn’t know how to use it. In the middle of March, they sent out 18 kits a week; right now, they are sending up to a total of 300 families per week, effectively feeding at least 1200 people. With this drastic increase in the number of meals, the number of volunteers has also grown from four people to 85 volunteers. One volunteer, Rejoyce, helped with organizing sign-ups online for logistics, assembly, as well as drivers. Tess’ main responsibilities are to coordinate volunteers throughout the week, set up, as well as lead the meal bag assembly day. Because of the large number of volunteers they have, she and Mary have been able to return their focus on providing hospitality service. Recently, they have expanded their collaboration with the Free Store Food Bank, the Lutheran Church, the Interfaith Housing Network, and the Bethany House.

Tess just elected to remain and serve a for the second year at Tikkun Farm as a Notre Dame AmeriCorps member. She loves the possibility of serving people by educating them about nutrition and food.

Photos provided by Tess Balsley.