Volunteers are essential to the success of most all gleaning projects. In its first year, Community Harvest relied primarily on a small group of dedicated volunteers, so the second season was successfully focused on expanding the program’s volunteer base. With the site shift in 2014, efforts were focused on recruiting volunteers that were locals in the new location (a 30 minute drive from the former host site), as well as continuing to engage the already existing volunteers from the former site.
Community Harvest expands its volunteer base through a variety of recruitment methods. These include: developing partnerships with pre-existing groups likely to participate in group service events (such as local AmeriCorps members, church groups, service clubs, and high school classrooms) and seeking out tabling opportunities at community events. At these events, the Community Harvest gleaning coordinator, or occasionally volunteers, explain the program and encourage community members to sign up for the weekly newsletter of gleaning opportunities.
Community Harvest tries to use diverse methods to publicize efforts and volunteer opportunities, including: posting fliers and Craigslist volunteer ads, soliciting media coverage, contacting existing service groups, maintaining a website with an online registration option, and maintaining an active Facebook presence. Some additional ways gleaning coordinators promote Community Harvest include in-person presentations to service clubs and interested groups, and organizing special events.
Community Harvest seeks to engage volunteers by scheduling gleans as early as possible. As soon as gleans are scheduled, they are posted on Community Harvest’s webpage and Facebook page. All glean events are advertised to volunteers through a weekly newsletter which includes the date, time, crop, and location for all the gleaning opportunities. Gleans are scheduled at a variety of times, days, and locations so as to provide opportunities for volunteers with different schedules. Community Harvest tries to mitigate other potential barriers to participation too. For instance, carpooling is offered for far flung gleaning sites and children are allowed to attend gleans with their parents (as long as the donor farm approves).
Volunteer surveys are distributed to all active volunteers at the end of the harvest season. Reviewing the anonymous responses allows the coordinator to gauge overall volunteer experience and to change elements that were not positive for participants at future events. The weekly newsletters recognize the successes of the gleaning season progressively, periodically it will include mini-goals to reach a certain poundage amount by the end of each month to create enthusiasm among the volunteers.
Key to volunteer retention is continual positive feedback for volunteers. Throughout the season the gleaning coordinator makes a point to foster relationships with and between volunteers. Volunteers are always thanked in both verbal and email formats after each glean. Finally, all volunteers are invited to an end of the year volunteer and donor appreciation dinner at which all the year’s volunteers are recognized with volunteer appreciation awards.
Community Harvest is a project of Upper Valley MEND (Meeting Each Need with Dignity). UV MEND is a human services non-profit committed to meeting community needs of hunger, housing, and healthcare in the Cascade School District. MEND has six main programs including the Community Cupboard, a food bank and thrift store. Community Harvest began as a program of Community Farm Connection in Wenatchee in 2011. In 2014, Community Harvest worked to expand connections in Leavenworth and the Upper Valley area, while maintaining previously established programs down valley as well.