David DeRienzo, a senior at General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown, has a busy schedule, between working as a barista at a Starbucks in Seaford and leading his school’s Key Club as president. Adding to his list of to-do’s, the Eagle Scout candidate, a member of Troop 330, is taking on an extensive project in the garden at Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh.
DeRienzo, 17, who lives in Levittown, has been a Boy Scout for as long as he can remember, having joined the Cub Scouts in second grade. Now he is earning his Eagle rank at the temple where he had his bar mitzvah.
Being a scout, he said, “has definitely helped improved my maturity a lot, my independence. It was a place where I could be with my friends, expand on my own skills and my own knowledge and also help other people and do what I needed while also improving myself.”
The temple’s Social Action/Social Justice Committee launched what it calls the Giving Garden last May in an abandoned playground that has belonged to the temple for decades. All of the produce grown there is donated to local nonprofits, such as Island Harvest Food Bank, Hempstead’s Community Solidarity and the Family and Children’s Association.
The main challenge in creating the garden, Committee Chair Rona Kauffman said, was that volunteers didn’t know the condition of the soil beneath the playground’s blacktop surface. They also had trouble removing some of the playground equipment, which included a climbable caterpillar and rhinoceros. So instead of leveling the existing playground, volunteers dug garden beds around the equipment.
That limited what they could plant, however, because there was only four inches of soil in each bed. DeRienzo aimed to solve that problem by raising the beds so the volunteers could grow root vegetables, and elderly congregants could tend to the garden without having to bend over or work on their hands and knees.
The project, which also involves building benches, will help DeRienzo improve his gardening skills, he said, while helping the congregants at TBT and the nonprofits they support.
“I wanted to improve my skills, and I thought the best way to do that would be going straight into the fire,” he said.
Because temple volunteers are unable to dig below the surface of the garden, DeRienzo used eight-foot-long landscape lumber that is 2½ inches wide and 3½ inches thick to raise the entire garden five to six inches. “That adds about 200 cubic feet of growing space,” he explained, adding that this part of the project was complete.
“Thanks to Eagle Scout candidate David DeRienzo, Scout and Cub Scout Troops 330 and David’s friends and parents, our garden beds got a raise,” read a statement posted on the Garden at TBT Facebook page. “This will allow us to expand this year’s donation of fresh produce to our local food pantries. A full day of all kinds of garden work was carefully done and their hard work was so well organized.”
DeRienzo also plans to build raised planter boxes out of pallet wood. “The main reason to build those is because they’re about three feet tall,” he said, “so if any of the congregation members or volunteers who want to help out have bad backs or are in wheelchairs, then they have an accessible way they can help out in the garden. The third part [of the project] is building two benches.”
He said he had learned a great deal through this process. “I’ve always been scared to use power tools,” he said. “Circular saws are the main one I got to learn how to use, and will be using on my own.”
As DeRienzo enters his last months as a high school student, he said that there is a lot of stress, between his obligations and the coronavirus pandemic, but he is still having fun.
“David has always exceeded my expectations,” said his mother, Holly DeRienzo. “He works, and does great in school, and has an awesome bunch of friends, a gigantic heart. He was a lieutenant governor in the Key Club, and voted most comedic. I could go on, but he doesn’t like me to boast. He’s an awesome kid.”
To make a donation to the project, email DeRienzo at email@example.com.