Volunteer Relations

Without people who are willing to give of their time for gleaning, we could not do it cheaply or effectively.  Many people are just looking for the opportunity to give back to the community. Additionally, more and more volunteers may be people in need who are working to provide food for themselves and their neighbors. This is particularly true in rural settings where an aging population may not be able to glean for themselves but need the fresh produce. Transportation may increase the volunteers’ need to glean due to grocery stores not existing in their community or access to fresh produce is several miles away from their home.

Our work is to connect people with the opportunity to glean.  The process of recruiting and scheduling volunteers looks different in an area with a well-established gleaning network than in an area where gleaning is just beginning.

A.   Recruiting & Outreach

Speaking Events:  Exploit every opportunity to speak to a group. In southern, rural communities, churches are still a central point for people to gather. If you are invited to speak at a worship service, ask if you can talk to a combined Adult Sunday School class as well.   Even ten minutes in worship service makes a difference if people are unfamiliar with your organization. A five-minute presentation at a District pastors’ meeting might yield three or four speaking engagements at local churches. Network with local pastors to see when this group meets, often this group does not post or maintain online communications. Speak to a variety of groups: Girl/Boy Scouts, Rotary Clubs, United Methodist Men or Women’s Groups, High School Classes, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, university classes, etc.

Utilize Personal Network: Personal network of friends, families, and communities.

Volunteers from Agencies:  People from subsidized housing projects are often willing to glean and bring the food back to their community.  They may need help with transportation, which churches with vans can often provide. Hunger relief agencies can provide volunteers who will glean on their behalf.

Register with Local Community Outreach Organization:  Look in the local community for organizations whose purpose is to connect volunteers with opportunities such as HandsOn and United Way.  If there are any colleges in the area, they usually have some sort of community outreach program for students.

Public Service Announcements:  Some local radio stations have PSA from which we could benefit.

Media Coverage:  Look for every opportunity to get the word out by TV and print media.  Look for special or unique events that the media would be interested in covering (e.g., an especially large gleaning, a cooperative effort by several groups, a “young people doing good” angle). Try to get your phone number in the article with a request for volunteers. Rural community papers are always looking for stories and the majority of these communities still read the newspaper. Don’t be afraid to reach out to reporters for events.

B.   What to Say When Recruiting Volunteers

Anyone Can Glean:  As long as a person is able to bend and move, they can glean. Gleaning is a terrific intergenerational activity for churches, schools, and families.  Also, make certain that people know that even if they can’t glean, they can still support financially.

Low Commitment: You make all the arrangements with the farmer and the agencies, volunteers just need to “show up” at the field at the designated time and give a few hours labor.  They can do this once a month or once a year.

Groups of All Sizes Welcome: Groups of as few as three or four people can glean effectively.  It doesn’t always take a large group to glean a lot. Also, several small groups can glean together at the same time.

C.  Maintaining and Communicating with Volunteers

Collect Accurate and Complete Information: When getting information from gleaning groups or individuals, be sure to get an email address and cell phone number for them.  Electronic methods are the fastest and easiest ways to update groups during the year. Consider using an electronic liability form that gathers this data and also protects your organization.

Gleaning Calendar: At the beginning of the gleaning season, send an email to all of the contacts of various groups with which you have had contact. Let them know that gleaning season is beginning and that you hope their group will sign up for a date to glean.  If possible, get them to give you a date to put tentatively on the calendar.  You might let them know when the crops closest to them will be available to glean. Follow-up with a phone call as well after you’ve sent out an email.

Upcoming Event Alert: To alert volunteers to an upcoming event, send out an email if the time allows.  For example, if a farmer says that he has a field of collard greens that can be gleaned over the next month.  Send out an email encouraging groups to call and sign up for a date when their group can glean. If the event is last notice, pick up the phone and call volunteer groups instead.

Volunteer Thank You: Whenever possible, follow-up with volunteers by email after an event to thank them for their service. Include pictures and let them know how much they gleaned, where the produce was distributed, and the impact they made.

Maintain Contact Throughout the Year:  Ongoing communication with volunteers is important.  Be sure to stay in contact volunteers throughout the year.    

D.   Specialized Volunteers

There are some volunteers that are more committed and involved than others.  Some volunteers have special gifts or abilities that they can offer. Try to take advantage of these whenever possible.

Truck Drivers: People who have pickup trucks and/or trailers are needed for hauling produce from the fields.  Occasionally, you may find a volunteer with other equipment that might be helpful (e.g., a tractor and trailer to haul produce out of the field).

Field Supervisors: Watch for people with leadership skills who would be good field supervisors.  These volunteers need to be particularly dedicated to gleaning and willing to glean about once a month.  It is also helpful to identify one person from each group who might be a good field supervisor; then that group will have a “built-in” field supervisor.

Weekday Availability: Although gleaning events are often scheduled on weekends to accommodate working volunteers, gleaning can happen any day of the week.  During the summer, youth groups may be available to glean, but during the school year, it is necessary to find people who are available during the week. Many schools (especially private schools) require community service hours.  Some schools may even schedule “community service days” when all students a faculty volunteer in the community. Also, retirees and stay-at-home parents as well as home-school groups are potential weekday volunteers.

Interpreters: Volunteers who are so excited about what SoSA does that they want to tell others.  These volunteers should be articulate and personable as they represent the organization by giving talks at churches and to other groups.

E.   Scheduling Volunteers to Glean

Beginning of the Season: Contact volunteers at the beginning of the season to see when their group would like to glean so you tentatively already have gleaners lined up for the times when you expect to have crops available for gleaning.  You may encourage groups to sign up at a time when you think that the crops closest to them will be available for gleaning.

Short-Notice Gleaning: When a farmer contacts you with a short-notice gleaning, contact as many volunteers as you think will be necessary.  You may try to contact persons/groups close to where the field is or you may contact persons you know may be willing to go on short notice. If you find a crop and don’t have anyone scheduled, exploit every possibility to find gleaners.  You might even try to contact groups that have never gleaned before if they are located near the fields. Sometimes these groups will go; other times, they may not be available at that time, but will sign up to glean at a different time.

F. Appreciation and Data Recording

It is important to record each volunteer and how many hours they contributed to an event or glean. How many volunteers and their hours can also help measure your organization’s impact in the community. You can use this to recognize them during appreciation events like dinners and breakfasts on an annual or bi-annual basis. You can also have prizes as a part of recognition in your volunteer program (ex. 25 hours gets a personal name tag, 50 hours gets a t-shirt, 100 hours gets a special recognition such as a gift certificate or article in the local newspaper).




Society of St. Andrew Georgia Gleaning Network opened in Tifton in 2007. It is a southwest Georgia town with a population of about 20,000 citizens but rich with crop farmers in the immediate area. Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) covers a gleaning operation for all of the state of Georgia, overseen by the Program Coordinator. The state currently has one Area Coordinator in Cleveland, Georgia, covering the mountain region in North Georgia. The VISTA works alongside the Program Coordinator in Tifton, gathering best practices of gleaning to expand the gleaning network to other regions in south Georgia. Being located in a Southern U.S., rural area presents several challenges including transportation for both volunteers and recipients, aging populations, lack of economic development in small communities, lack of access to fresh produce, and racially divided communities. Georgia ranks ninth in the nation when it comes to food insecurity for the senior population, and overall food insecurity for the state is 16.7 percent in 2015. As of November 2017, the SoSA Gleaning Network with has collected 1.3 million pounds of produce that has been distributed to community agencies throughout Georgia.

Related Articles