As a volunteer youth teacher for the St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church some years ago, Karen Abowd asked her students to share a story from a particularly difficult time.
One girl told of an experience in which her father was arrested and her mother deported, leaving the girl to care for her infant brother. In a moment of desperation, the girl confided, she resorted to stealing formula for her brother.
“I came home and told Charlie, ‘This can’t happen,’” Karen recalled. “That was the impetus for getting the Greenhouse Project started.”
For their work in establishing the nonprofit greenhouse — which is used to supply fresh produce to the city’s hungry — along with other volunteer work and programs, the Abowds are being recognized as the Community Leaders of the Year. The recognition comes from the Ron Wood Family Resource Center at its annual fundraiser Saturday.
“Karen’s wonderful with her work with the Greenhouse Project and helping the individuals in the community that suffer from food insecurity,” said Joyce Buckingham, executive director of the Ron Wood Family Resource Center. “Charlie works endlessly to feed the homeless. Both of them have a commitment to people in need.”
The Abowds have lived in Carson City for 32 years; they have raised three children and have run the popular Adele’s Restaurant for 18 years. Throughout the years, they have always made it a point to give what they could.
“I was lucky I was raised by two really great, community-oriented people,” Charlie said. “I saw that in action.”
In its first harvest last year, the greenhouse produced 2,200 pounds of food. This year, it will exceed 4,500 pounds.
The fruits and vegetables of the greenhouse are spread throughout the community. While 10 percent of the produce goes to the culinary arts program at Carson High School, where the greenhouse is, the rest is distributed to food pantries at Friends In Service Helping, the Salvation Army, the Ron Wood Family Resource Center and the Food for Thought program, which provides food over the weekend to children in need.
Buckingham said her program feeds about 3,000 people a week.
“It’s a sad fact, but there are a lot of people in our community who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” she said.
That’s why it’s so important, said Karen, to support the resource center. It provides 17 programs including the food pantry, parenting classes, car seat safety and other services.
“You have to support the nonprofits,” said Karen, who also serves on the city’s board of supervisors. “They fill in the gap of so many services city government can’t provide. They need that support to keep their efforts alive.”
The Abowds also host the annual Cookies with Santa to benefit the Ron Wood Family Resource Center’s Toys for Tots program and make monthly trips to Tent City in Reno to feed the homeless. Charlie also was one of the founders of the annual Basque Festival, the major fundraiser for St. Teresa Catholic Church.
Karen said they appreciate the recognition, but that is not the reason they serve.
“It’s an honor, but I just feel it it’s our obligation to give back,” she said.
Charlie said he grew up with the mantra to give until it hurts, then give some more.
“I’m not building an empire,” he said. “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, but in the end, I just want to be even.”
The fourth annual fundraiser will be from 5-9 p.m. Saturday at the Governor’s Mansion and will feature wine tasting, appetizers, an auction and a raffle. Tickets cost $50 per person or $350 for a table of eight.
Karen said that while she is uncomfortable with the spotlight, she’s happy to attend.
“I’m thrilled because they’ve given me a date night,” she said. “I can finally get Charlie out from behind the stove on a Saturday night.”