PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A crucial fence for the Homeless Empowerment Program was left with thousands of dollars in damage after a driver hit it and took off.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into the garden to make it what it is,” said Maissie Hughes, garden coordinator for the Homeless Empowerment Program. “I think it is really important to be connected to nature and to spend time outside,”

Hughes spends every day in the organization’s garden, getting fruits and vegetables ready to be served to those who are homeless or food insecure.

“We serve just over 400 people a day,” said Ashley Lowery, CEO of the organization.

An important part of the garden is the fence surrounding it.

“In prior years, we’ve had instances of theft and vandalism on the property, specifically around the garden, which is why the fence was installed,” said Lowery.

The fence was damaged over the weekend when the driver hit it and left no information behind.

“I was just like, ‘Whoa.’ It was just so unexpected. I was probably the first person who saw it,” said Hughes.

Lowery said it’s going to cost roughly $5,000 to fix.

“We are going to have to look at the garden operations and see what we can possibly move around to cover that expense,” said Lowery.

Volunteers and clients with The Homeless Empowerment Program said not only is their garden used to feed people who struggle to find food, but it’s also used as a form of therapy.

“Just getting out and getting your hands dirty. It gives you time to reflect and stuff, and it’s something to do with nature. It all works together for the good,” said Jim Rains, a veteran and client with the organization.

Rains volunteers in the garden. He said the garden has changed his life, and the fence needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

“It’s a total 360. When I got here, I was spiritually bankrupt,” said Rains.

Rains and Hughes said the organization is hoping to get the fence back up before the busy holiday season.

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