Successful Volunteer Relations


The WSU Clallam County gleaning program has three assets in terms of volunteer relations:

1.) The program has existed in one form or another for eight years.

2.) Many people from around the country are retiring in the area and

3.) This is not Florida.

This last point may be the most important. As opposed to tropical locations where retirees are looking for a sun bathed vacation for the rest of their lives, most of those who retire and move to Clallam County are looking to hike and to become more civically engaged. Desiring civic engagement and physical activity while having the time to do it is the perfect volunteer recipe. In order to engage these perfect volunteer types along with many other walks of human life a gleaning coordinator can:

  • Talk with civic/volunteer groups/clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Masons, Hikers, Elks, Moose, Marmots and Bob Cats.
  • Talk with church leaders especially outreach ministry coordinators.
  • Hold informational events at public libraries such as a Gleaning Kickoff Event.
  • Create booth materials to be used at public events: fairs, festivals, farmer’s markets, school open houses, conferences, etc.
  • Make friends with food bank volunteers. Volunteers often are one link away from volunteers in other organizations or who want to volunteer. Explain your program to those involved in food security.
  • Contact high school organizations for community service graduation requirements. These organizations may include: Key Club, NJROTC and AmeriCorps volunteers. Key contacts include guidance office, principals and public relations coordinators.
  • Incorporate food waste education to your presentation repertoire. This opens the door to many youth groups, civic groups and public events. Many teachers, scout leaders and non-profit workers are interested in waste reduction. This includes the environmental impacts of gleaning what would otherwise be wasted.
  • Get to know other waste reduction organizations in your area. Think of places that make it their business out of diverting waste from landfills, such as Habitat for Humanity, other repurpose stores, restaurants that save compost materials, and other green organizations. Also look to your municipal government departments like Solid and Hazardous Waste, the Public Health Dept. and Parks and Recreation.
  • Get to know Master Gardeners. Not only are they a free resource to educate yourself and the public in the crop types to be gleaned, they often want to glean themselves.

Most importantly, make quality relationships with organization personnel and volunteers. Although we live in a world that continually reinforces the importance of the quantity of relationships made, pounds harvested, clients reached, and likes on Facebook, think outside grant deliverables and impressive presentation points. Look no further than your closest socially minded nonprofit for these institutionalized people-decentralizing approaches. But what else is there to ensure the sustainability of work that doesn’t seek profits? We would like to know.

What we do know is that building genuine relationships with the PEOPLE that volunteer their TIME to the gleaning program has created incalculable benefits for the greater community. Gleaners are more appropriately matched to gleaning opportunities when their concerns, interests and limitations are understood. This matching is something gleaning software algorithms are getting better at and something coordinators actually do. When gleaners are allowed to distribute harvested goods to their locations of choice, food will spread to more locations and populations. There are so many church services, community dinners, school events, and social happenings in every community it would be near impossible for one person to know them all. This benefit is twofold, in that it works as a marketing campaign at locations and to people otherwise unreached. Make your promotional materials available to everyone.

Dissemination of local knowledge is another incalculable benefit of building genuine relationships. Gleaners live in the areas where they glean. Many know the seasons, when to harvest, and how to prepare and store produce. For those who are new to picking trees and digging in the dirt they’ll quickly learn from fellow community members who are working by their side. As a coordinator, allow the channels of information to flow freely. Providing seasonal produce information from researched sources and related news articles to the volunteer base is extremely helpful, but don’t be afraid to create scenarios where information is passed laterally. Take the approach that this is a program supported not just by volunteers, but that exists only because of people working together. This perspective will help generate the free and human-centered benefits that are the cornerstone of any program’s sustainability.

WSU Extension builds the capacity of individuals, organizations, businesses and communities, empowering them to find solutions for local issues and to improve their quality of life. The 39 Extension locations throughout the state of Washington offer researched based resources and volunteer programing to communities in efforts to create a culture of life-long learning and is recognized for its accessible, learner-centered, relevant, high-quality, unbiased educational programs. Over 100 years ago The Extension service was originally funded by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 which established the Cooperative Extension service across the country.

The Clallam County Extension, located in Port Angeles, is home to many programs that connect the people and communities of Clallam County with the knowledge base of Washington State University. These programs include: Master Gardeners, 4-H, Small Farms, Waste Reduction, Food and Nutrition and Water Protection. The Food Recovery Coordinator position was created in 2016 to better serve the existing gleaning program. Before the creation of this position the gleaning program had served the community for eight years but never with the attention of a full time position. Today the gleaning program has over 300 volunteers who pick produce from residential trees, farm production overages, community garden donations and extras from a local farmer’s market. The gleaning coordinator promotes the program by presenting public lectures, reaching out to volunteer organizations, teaching youth groups, attending local events and by putting out press releases. Home owners are more than happy to hear there is a volunteer based organization willing to pick their unusable fruit and veggies. Once the produce has been picked a portion is taken home to family and friends and the rest is brought to a local food service program, most often a food bank. The gleaning program takes pride in turning potential food waste into a community resource. 

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