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Planting a sense of community

Nothing keeps community members from stopping by the annual Collinsville Public Library Plant Sale. An elderly woman walked over two blocks from her home with her walker to purchase plants at the fundraiser being held in front of Collinsville Drugs on Valley Avenue in May 11-12 this spring.

Vic Bell, a Cherokee County Master Gardener, walked around with her and helped her pick out plants that would do well in her home.

Bell has been helping at the plant sale for more than ten years. He said, “I came by one day to buy something and ended up staying all day! I like talking to people about plants so I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The idea for a plant sale came from the mind of Peggy Weaver, a retired math teacher from Collinsville High School. She started the plant sale 14 years ago in 2003 as a fund raiser for the Collinsville Public Library. Weaver partnered with Library Director Jennifer Wilkins to get the sale off the ground.

Wilkins and Weaver recruited community members in Collinsville to bring plant donations. It has since turned into a local event community members look forward to. Wilkins said, “People know it’s to help the library, and the plants are priced cheaper than in commercial stores too. It helps out the library, and it helps people who might not normally be able to afford it.”

The plant sale was held at the library for four years before it moved to a more central part of town in 2007 when the local pharmacist, Brandon Boswell, allowed them to set up the fundraiser in front of Collinsville Drugs. Wilkins said, “Brandon has been so great.  He lets us use his parking lot, and he always comes out to buy something.”

Wilkins mentioned that the fundraiser has always been successful, but it has grown in donations since nurseries have started to participate. Weaver said “After a few years, Jennifer started asking around for plant donations at local nurseries. And they said yes!”

Mark Shatzel, a member of the Library Board of Directors, went to seven different nurseries, stores and organizations scattered across four cities in Northeast Alabama to pick up donated plants for the fundraiser. Pack’s Nursery in Boaz, Dixie Green, Bama Green and Walmart in Centre, Sawyer Nursery in Leesburg and Tyler Farms and Collinsville Health and Rehabilitation donated plants from their gardens and greenhouses this year.

Wilkins said, “They’re all so generous to donate plants to us. I think it’s because they care about literacy, which is just amazing.”

Those donations, plus the donations made by individual community members, ended up providing seven pickup truck loads of plants for the event. This year, the plant sale raised $1,085 for the library to purchase more books.

The generosity and community involvement that goes into the plant sale is evident in the big donations as well as in the small acts of kindness. When Bell noticed the elderly lady did not have a way to get her plants home other than trying to carry them as well as using her walker, he offered to load them up and drive them to her house.

She accepted the offer and thanked him as he put them on the truck. When asked if he knew the woman, Bell responded, “Well, no. But I knew it was a long walk, so I just took it as a chance to help.”

Having different people and organizations providing a facility to have the sale, donate plants and people to purchase and sell plants provides the Collinsville Public Library with an opportunity to build community relationships and gain funds that help keep the book shelves stocked.