According to the USDA, 27 percent of all the food produced each year in the U.S. is lost (or wasted) at the retail, consumer, and food service levels. That turns out to be nearly 1.5 tons of food per year for every man, woman, and child in the United States who faces hunger. To put it another way, we throw away about 263 million pounds of food every single day! And much of what is wasted actually is just surplus food. It is perfectly edible. And that doesn’t even count the food left in the fields or discarded before delivery.
Meanwhile, at the same time all that good food is being wasted, there are more than 40 million Americans who struggle daily to get enough to eat. Nearly half of these people are children. A large number are elderly. But no matter who they are, or where they live, or why they are impoverished, there is no excuse for anyone to go hungry in America when so much food goes to waste.
So why doesn’t somebody do something about all this waste and find a way to put it to use feeding America’s hungry?
Gleaning America’s Fields – Feeding America’s Hungry. One major area of food waste in America is in farmers’ fields, where crops that don’t meet top-grade quality are left to rot or be plowed under. The Society of St. Andrew (SOSA) found a way to put that un-harvested produce into the hands and homes of the hungry by using a technique that is thousands of years old–gleaning. Gleaning is a practice that goes back to biblical times of gathering the remainder of a crop that has been left in the fields. In the Book of Ruth, Ruth was allowed to go after the harvesters and pick up wheat that was left behind. In the same way, since 1979 the Society of St. Andrew has salvaged fresh, nutritious produce from American farms – produce that otherwise would have gone to waste – and delivered it to agencies across the nation that serve the poor.
The Society of St. Andrew has found a way to put un-harvested produce into the hands and homes of the hungry.
St. Andrew’s Gleaning Network Coordinates Volunteers, Growers, and Distribution Agencies Tens of thousands of volunteers from churches, synagogues, scout troops, college campuses, senior citizen groups, and other organizations participate each year in Society of St. Andrew gleaning activities, including volunteers right here in Mississippi. Each year, tens of millions of pounds of produce are salvaged and given to those in need at no cost to them or to the food pantry or kitchen that feeds them.
The regional office of SOSA serving Mississippi and Arkansas is located in Jackson. With the help of countless volunteers, it has delivered more than 21 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other food in these states through its Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in almost 62 million servings of food going to hungry families in Mississippi and Arkansas.
Heading the Mississippi/Arkansas office of SOSA is Andy Lemmon, Program Coordinator of the Mississippi Gleaning Network. Although he is new to his post, he has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and commitment to the program. Andy describes his opportunity to serve the SOSA as a leap of faith and an answer to a divine calling.
“I was in church one Sunday and the sermon really hit me,” recalls Lemmon. “The minister said ‘when are you going to quit dating your calling and get serious and make a commitment?’ That struck me because I liked my job, but I didn’t feel like I was doing anything that would make a real difference. So I prayed about it and out of the blue a friend told me about a job opening with the Society of St. Andrew he had seen. It was funny – he said the notice didn’t sound like a job description, it sounded like me. I talked to my wife about it and after thought and prayer, we decided I should go for it.”
According to Lemmon, the process is very simple. It is just a matter of coordinating all of the different elements. He has found that it is just incredible to see how much good can come of a few people that are willing to give of themselves.
“It takes everybody in the process to make this work, from the farmers who donate the produce, to the volunteers who glean, to the agencies that pick it up and distribute it and the individuals and organizations that contribute to SOSA financially,” Lemmon explains. “Not only is providing food for the hungry a worthy cause, but it is also very effective cause. Imagine this example, a few weeks ago we gleaned in a turnip field near Brandon on a Saturday, and many of those turnips were already in the hands of people who needed them by the end of the day. The most amazing thing was that we had postponed the gleaning twice already because of bad weather, so we lost some potential gleaners because of scheduling. We had gotten the number of pounds of turnips that each agency, church or organization could accommodate, and at the end of the day, we had just enough to fill every single order.”
To find out more about how you can volunteer, offer surplus produce to be gleaned, or donate financially to The Society of St. Andrew, contact Andy Lemmon at 769-233-0887 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
When was the Society of St. Andrew formed? 1979
Where did the Society of St. Andrew start? Big Island, VA in a converted sheep shed. Today the headquarters are still located on the same property just 100 yards from the sheep shed.
What is the mission of the Society? To introduce people to God’s grace in Jesus Christ through meeting their hungers: Food for the body; God’s Word for the heart and a community of love for the spirit.
Where does the Society operate? There are regional offices coordinating gleaning in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia. There are also gleaning areas in Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Pensylvania.
What percentage of the Society’s costs go to overhead or administrative expenses? Overhead costs are consistently kept below 8% of our overall expenses.
Where does the Society get its funding? About 33% of funding comes from individuals who financially support the ministry. Donations from churches, church agencies, and groups affiliated with churches account for about 38% of funding. The remaining 28% of financial support comes from foundations and corporations. SOSA receives no funding from government.
How does gleaning work? Farmers agree to open their fields or orchards to volunteers to collect food left over after the harvest. Society of St. Andrew gleaning coordinator arranges for volunteers to go into the donated fields and orchards to pick up the perfectly edible food left behind. He or she also arranges for the food to be either delivered to, or picked up by, local agencies serving the hungry – at no cost to them.
What is the biggest crop gleaned in Mississippi? Sweet potatoes
What are some of the other products Mississippi gleaners salvage from donor farms? Beets, turnip greens, tomatoes, cantaloupes, strawberries, sweet corn, watermelons, green beans, apples, squash, cabbage, pumpkins, and pears, to mention a few.
When are gleanings scheduled? Most gleanings are in the morning and last just three to four hours. Gleanings are scheduled week days and on Saturdays.
Are gleanings held all over the state of Mississippi? Yes. Farmers in some 75 locations around the state allow the Society to glean after they have finished harvesting their crops.
How can you volunteer to glean? Anyone in Mississippi interested in volunteering to glean can contact the Society of St. Andrew Mississippi & Arkansas Program Coordinator, Andy Lemmon at 769-233-0887.