Empowering Gardens Inc. raised approximately $36,000 after Giving Tuesday this holiday season, with a “good portion” of funds being raised by the 50th reunion of the Oak Park and River Forest High School Class of 1968. The Chicago-based Coleman Foundation also matched $10,000 in contributions.  

“That was extraordinary for us, usually this time of year we’re just cringing. Now we sleep better,” said Richard Biggins, Empowering Gardens’ co-owner who is also an alum of OPRF class of 1986.  

Empowering Gardens, a nonprofit that employs and supports people with disabilities, runs an outdoor garden center at 7730 Madison St. in Forest Park during the summer. In winter, the nonprofit generally operates anywhere landlord friends donate space. 

For the second winter in a row, Art Sundry, the owner of caffe DeLuca, is allowing Empowering Gardens to operate at a space he owns at 7415 Madison St in Forest Park. 

But now, after receiving such a generous donation, Biggins said the nonprofit will, for the first time, be able to save to buy the land at 7730 Madison St., the cost of which he estimates as only rising thanks to new development. 

In April 2018, the Forest Park Village Council approved a four-story, mixed-use development at 7652 Madison St., a site formerly occupied by Irish pubs Brian Boru and Molly Malone’s. The Northbrook-based Madison Avenue Real Estate Group, which is managed by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, will develop the space.

“There’s been a lot of development at that end of town, so we’re afraid that this cost of our ultimate goal of buying that property is going up as we sit. We’ve been pretty month to month since we began,” Biggins said. 

Empowering Gardens is currently in year four of its five-year lease at 7730 Madison St., leaving the nonprofit about 23 months to save to buy the land.

“We better figure out a plan to buy it or somebody else with a lot of money is going to come and end our dream, and we certainly don’t want that to happen,” said Ana Solares, co-owner. 

Nona Tepper

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