WATERLOO, Iowa --- David and Liz O'Malley did a good thing. And they aren't the only ones.
A large community came together for the benefit of some of its newest members, a group of Burmese immigrants.
City Council member Steve Schmitt spearheaded an effort to find garden space in the Church Row neighborhood for the refugees. The O'Malleys donated a vacant lot at West Fourth and Randolph streets for their use. An old church once sat on the site but had to be demolished.
"It was heartbreaking when the church had to come down," Liz O'Malley said. "I'm glad that something good is coming from that."
On Thursday, a group of about 40 people gathered at the site for a kick-off event that included dual blessings from the Rev. Ken Stecher and Burmese Minister John Lazum, both of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. A large percentage of Waterloo's Burmese population are members of the parish.
"I think most of them came from a rural background," Stecher said of his Burmese parishioners. "Maybe this will make America feel more like home, to be working the soil. Sometimes we get removed from the basics. I think this means an awful lot to them."
Mike Cook organized a group of friends and their equipment to till the lot, along with two others in the area that will be used for gardens --- one donated by Habitat for Humanity.
"I like helping the community whenever I can," Cook said. "I should say no, but I never do. I think this is a good project."
Sue Beach was on hand, representing the Blue Zone project and handing out tools, seeds and T-shirts.
"Blue Zones is all about making healthy choices easy choices," she said. "Having access to fresh produce is the perfect opportunity."
Michelle Temeyer, of Iowa State University Extension of Black Hawk County, also contributed to the project.
"The extension has been involved in community gardens for years," she said. "We have found the community is very interested in healthy eating and healthy habits, and we are just lending our expertise."
Schmitt said about 20 Burmese families have already signed up for a garden.
"But this isn't restricted to the Burmese," he said. "It is ideal for anyone living in the Church Row neighborhood."
Schmitt said the city has a number of lots that can be used for gardens if the need arises.
"This allows neighbors to work together," he said. "There are so many vacant lots. This is a real good use for them."
As the event broke up, a number of Burmese --- sporting Blue Zone T-shirts --- began digging in the dirt.
"We are very excited and happy about the garden," said Lazum, whose wife, Esther, and their seven kids will help work the plot.
The family will plant cilantro, green chiles, green onions, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli and more.
"We want to say thank you to everyone," he said. "We are excited to have it all. We need it."