This post is a special guest blog post by a staff member at the Corporation for National and Community Service. While on a family vacation abroad, Stu and his family took a little time to do a service project involving gleaning.
This past May I traveled to Israel for an extended family Bar Mitzvah celebration. June, my wife, and 14 other family members and I participated in a Leket project. Leket is the Hebrew word meaning to glean, a practice documented in scriptures dating back thousands of years. Leket, also known as Table to Table, is Israel’s largest charitable “food rescue” and “food bank” organization. It salvages thousands of tons of produce that would otherwise rot in the fields and be plowed under in addition to thousands of uneaten meals that would otherwise be discarded by large institutions like corporate cafeterias, restaurants and army bases. The 16 people in our group picked, crated and stacked 950 kilograms of onions in two hours. Everyone in the group had fun learning new skills and seeing how fast we could fill the collection bins and how high they were getting stacked. We also got a lot of satisfaction knowing that the onions we picked would be put to good use.
When I had a chance to consider the significance of the project, I realized that it was just one small link in a large chain of charitable acts in the effort to provide nutritious food to those who would not otherwise have any way to get it. The owners of the farms allow volunteer pickers onto their property because they wish to help less fortunate people, but cannot afford the full cost to harvest these products for which a commercial market does not exist. There are also a small group of dedicated volunteers who negotiate with the farmers, recruit the volunteers and provide people who volunteer with instructions and necessary equipment. Finally, there are many private donors who provide vital support the Table to Table organization.
In returning to the United States I was curious and searched the Internet for local organizations that operated gleaning programs. I was pleased to see several! These “food rescue” programs glean perfectly healthy crops that cannot be profitably marketed. Some also collect unused food served to guests at large banquets, restaurants and military mess halls. In fact, it is becoming more common practice to anticipate a surplus of food when planning a large banquet and prepare to avoid wasting it by notifying Table to Table in advance so that timely pickup and distribution of the extra food can be planned. There are many opportunities to enhance access to nutritious food for those less fortunate through the rescue of the abundance available to some who cannot use it themselves.
You can get involved too! Check out the Let's Glean! toolkit for more information on gleaning, how to start your own program, and where to find additional resources.
Stu Graff works in the Office of the CFO at the Corporation for National and Community Service.