The Upper West Side lost a valued member of the community last week. Jenny Benitez, the creator of Riverside Community Garden (aka "Jenny's Garden") at 138th Street, died at home at the age of 86, surrounded by her family. For more than 35 years, she took an abandoned lot afflicted with trash, abandoned vehicles and dangerous activity and turned the space into an urban garden that shared its harvest with an Upper West Side soup kitchen.
Dan Garodnick, President of the Riverside Park Conservancy, hailed Benitez as "a giant in our community, who planted the original seeds of Riverside Park’s restoration ... In a decades-long, never-ending process of stewarding this one acre area of Riverside Park, Jenny, alongside her husband Victor, her children, and her neighbors, created a multi-generational, multi-cultural community of urban gardeners in West Harlem."
"In partnership with Riverside Park Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department," Garodnick continued, "Jenny engaged the neighborhood, fed the hungry, and blessed the city with a horticultural oasis that grew across a half mile of landscape along Riverside Drive."
The West Side Spirit chronicled Benitez's work in providing food for Broadway Community’s Four-Star Soup Kitchen at the Broadway Presbyterian Church on 114th Street, and how she dealt with the spraying of pesticides on the Amtrak right of way through West Harlem last year, when roughly half of the plantings at Jenny’s Garden were killed or severely damaged.