Today, the lot overflows with Christmas trees, wreaths, pecans and poinsettias, the sales of which benefit Fireside Ministries, a local, faith-based non-profit.
The scope of the ministry’s efforts is wide.
At the Christmas market, volunteers from local churches work alongside men from Fireside’s job skills program. During the week, it’s a venue for court-ordered community service.
Money from each sale goes back into training programs or Fireside’s community garden.
“They learn job skills. They get experience. We want to take that and use it to graduate these people to jobs in the community,” said Phin Hitchcock, who, with his wife, Jan, founded Fireside Ministries in 1992.
In November, two greenhouses went up to sell a variety of plants year round.
Across the lot, in the old Richmond County tag office, are the beginnings of a barbecue restaurant that’ll give the homeless and jobless opportunities to work.
“We want people to come and have a good experience at the tag office,” Hitchcock joked.
The restaurant is expected to open in early March for lunch, but renovations are needed. Like the shed, which was transformed into a country store selling boiled peanuts, pecans and eggs, the tag office received an upgrade with wood from old Harrisburg homes through the Turn Back the Block program.
“We don’t throw anything away,” Hitchcock said. “Nothing goes to waste.”
Even the tables inside the restaurant use wood and doors from the renovated Widow’s Home, now operated by Christ Community Health Services.
Last week, giant red letters that spell “FIRESIDE” went up on the roof of the old tag office.
Scott Kent, the plant manager, hopes the added visibility from Gordon Highway will drive passersby to the lot.
“People are noticing. They’re coming by, stopping more,” he said.
It costs about $3,000 a month to operate out of the State Farmers Market. For now, Fireside has one employee.
“All this is done by community service workers and volunteers,” Hitchock said. “The men at Warren Baptist came to build the garden beds. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
By January, the beds will have produced a crop of kale, lettuce and radishes, which will be sold at the country store.
“People say its too risky to do what we’re doing. I say it’s risky not to do it,” Hitchcock said. “We’re putting fliers out there. We’re asking people to come down and see us. Once they come, taste a boiled peanut, see our prices, they’ll want to come back.”