“Most of the time people focus on the food banks giving away food, but they never have a clue where the food is coming from.” — Mike Hickcox, communications director for the Society of St. Andrew.
Hickcox is right. We know that food pantries, food banks and food kitchens distribute food to the hungry. However, we don’t often think of where this food comes from, especially the fresh food. Yes, grocery stores sometimes supply produce, but not nearly all of it. So where does all of the fresh stuff come from?
Thanks to organizations like the Society of St. Andrew, it comes from farmers and the volunteers who visit farms and pick up the fresh and nutritious food that’s been left behind after harvesting. These folks make sure the fresh crops from the fields end up in the bellies of the hungry.
Named after the disciple who found the boy with the bread and fish in the biblical story where Jesus feeds 5,000 followers, the Society of St. Andrew operates a two-fold mission: to retrieve food from the field and to distribute it to the poor.
The Society began in Big Island, Virginia, in 1979, when two young ministers with a heart for feeding the hungry started visiting churches in their community to convince them of the need of their neighbors and urge them to donate food.
One day after two years of extolling the community to help the poor, a potato farmer stood up in a meeting and told the pastors he had a truckload of extra crop that was destined for the landfill. Why not use this surplus to feed the poor?
From that man’s proposal arose an entirely different concept — of saving food from being thrown away and connecting farmers and communities together to distribute surplus food to the needy. Thanks to this first small effort, more similar opportunities arose. Now, every year about 25 to 30 million pounds of fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables are delivered to hungry people thanks to the Society.
“We figure that every pound is about three servings, so that’s roughly 100 million servings a year,” Hickcox said.
The Society of St. Andrew thrives mostly in the south, though gleanings take place across the country. Volunteers flood farmers’ fields after crops have been harvested, looking for the missed fruits and vegetables, sometimes gathering truckloads of perfectly delicious food. Sometimes farmers will donate truckloads of produce, too. Volunteers gather to bag this food and then send it to food banks, pantries or individuals. It’s very much a team effort.
“We exist mostly on connecting people together,” Hickcox said. “We don’t do most of the work that gets food grown, shipped, delivered and put on peoples’ plates. We coordinate with farmers who want to donate food instead of dump it in a landfill. We work with volunteers who want to bring food to the hungry. Our part is really to connect the goodwill of a whole lot of people.”
And there really are a lot of good people who jump in to help, whether by picking up fruits and vegetables in the fields or packing whole truckloads into smaller portions. In 2015, the Society of Saint Andrew had over 32,000 volunteers.
“It’s gratifying; the reason we can function is because there are so many people who want to do something about [hunger],” Hickcox said.
If you’d like to find out more about the Society of St. Andrew or how to participate in a gleaning, visit endhunger.org.