The Bay St. Louis Community Garden has been closed to the public, at least temporarily.
"Due to continuing theft and signs of drug use and vagrancy at the Bay St. Louis Community Garden, the committee members have decided to close the garden to the public until such time that the committee deems it safe and secure," according to a statement issued this week by board member Al Reisz. "In the past few weeks, vegetables have been removed from all the beds and hypodermic needles have been found on the grounds. Security cameras have been installed and pictures have already been sent to the proper authorities."
For now, all volunteers are asked to notify a committee member before entering the property, according to the statement.
"We regret making this decision but it is warranted considering what has occurred these last few weeks," Reisz said. "Thank you for your cooperation."
"The problem is the people just assume that the garden is for everybody and they don't read the signs or the rules," board member Katharine Ohman said Thursday. "You don't just go into the garden. This is about supplying produce to the community, the senior citizens center, King's Kitchen, the (Hancock County) Food Pantry.
"It's very disappointing that the rules are being ignored. .. It's always been the understanding that if someone is in need in the community, they can contact us."
The garden began in December 2013, a collaboration between volunteers like Ohman and Reisz and the Mississippi State University Extension Service/4H Club. The city of Bay St. Louis owns the property, located at 400 St. Francis St. and Bookter.
For years, Ohman said, volunteers have labored to make sure that local people in need have access to fresh produce.
"All we want is to meet the needs of the community and be a good resource for people," she said. "When something like this happens, it doesn't just hurt one person, it hurts a lot of people.
"We'd like this to be a positive thing for everybody."
If you'd like to volunteer at the garden or if you need the garden's services, you can call the MSU extension office at 228-467-5456.