McKinley Students Help Out at Mr. Checchio's Garden
Children keep tradition alive.
Mr. Fiore Checchio, a life-long Westfield resident, school crossing guard and former master gardener passed away early in May, leaving his beloved wife of 64 years, family and nearby community with an emptiness one only feels after losing someone special.
Although his wife still resides in the home located on the same corner where he regularly reported as a school crossing guard for two decades, she admits that she’s not a gardener like her husband and the lot next to their home, where his cherished garden was always immaculate, was going to be left bare for the season.
However, the Checchio family agreed to allow students from McKinley Elementary to come and plant small vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in the garden that Mr. Checchio was so proud of. With the help of her brother-in-law, Mrs. Checchio had already planted one row of tomatoes to keep up with the tradition, but there were still a few rows of tilled soil that were free for the students to plant and tend to with whatever they wished.
Since first planting seedlings in early June, the garden has grown and produced an abundance of tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and herbs. The participants were encouraged to meet weekly to observe and improve the garden by weeding and assigned to “watering posts.”
Thanks to the support of the McKinley community, the children who participated benefited from this experience tenfold as it not only afforded them to perform an act of kindness for a family that has been committed to keeping our kids safe, but also gave them a glimpse of how to tend home-grown produce which will hopefully carry on into their adult lives.
Jennifer Principato, who coordinated the project admitted that, “Being this is the first year, it will be more of a learning process for all involved and I reminded everyone that we will need to be patient, as we may need to adjust the project as we go.”
After months of watering and pruning she reports, “We lost some of the berry bushes due to deer eating the fruit, and our pumpkins because we planted them too close to each other, but overall I am delighted with the way the garden turned out. Like I said, it’s a learning process. It was kind of Mrs. Checchio to allow us on her property and to help keep her husband’s tradition alive.”