SoSA Florida’s volunteer base runs the demographic and geographic gamut. Spanning the entire state, our volunteers represent many ages, religions, orientations, creeds, and ethnicities. Outreach and recruitment efforts reflect this variety. In person outreach occurs at conferences, religious services, schools, and activist meetings. Online, several social media accounts in coordination with emailing servers and lists elicit support and entice new volunteers. However, the best tool in the recruitment and outreach is word of mouth. Growers and volunteers are SoSA’s greatest apostles, and their recommendations are invaluable.
SoSA’s current VISTA has created and cultivated several volunteer lists and databases outside of SoSA’s general records. For example, the VISTA compiled a complete list of United Methodist Church (UMC) congregations in the state of Florida. Data points include the name of the church, address, geographical region, and key staff members such as lead and youth pastors. The UMC database was created in order to effectively recruit volunteers at the UMC Conference in Lakeland. Letters and emails were sent out in advance, and the VISTA tabled at the three-day event. Similarly, the 2nd year VISTA created a list of Northern and Central Florida Presbyterian churches to prep for the annual Presbytery, in addition to tabling and distributing information. Such databases and research act as a volunteer relation sieve, allowing the VISTA and future SoSA staff to effectively locate, gather, and reach out to these and similar volunteer bases.
Retention is more of a challenge, as getting volunteers to return is far more of a commitment than giving gleaning a try. The Gleaning Calendar works wonders for retention, allowing volunteer groups to pick a date to commit months in advance. The combination of low-level commitment and simple planning allay anxieties related to the event. Student groups have excellent return rates as well, needing hours for graduation or scholarships. The produce itself is great for retention. Food agencies and patrons have very high return rates, as they are allowed to take food to their families and community. In sum, the more benefits offered at the greatest convenience lead to the highest retention rate. Additionally, proper volunteer appreciation feeds into recognition. Appreciated volunteers are far more likely to recommend the program to others and return to serve. At each and every glean, the field supervisor reminds volunteers of the impact of their service, and how SoSA’s mission is impossible without them. Following the event, pictures and a thank-you are posted on our social media pages. Appreciation is a year-round activity, but once a year SoSA takes time to celebrate and say thanks. In 2018 it was a Simple Supper event, but other years it has been at auctions or concerts. SoSA gathers with our volunteers near and far to remind them how they are the lynchpin in what we do, and why we do it. Reaffirming our mission and their place in it seems to revitalize our volunteers and their commitment and is crucial in maintaining a good base.
The Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA) can trace its humble origins to two families and a sheep shed in Big Island, Virginia in 1973. From these roots, the nation’s premier food rescue nonprofit has blossomed. SoSA’s primary function is gleaning, going into a field to harvest leftover or unwanted produce, and then giving this food to agencies free of charge. Additionally, SoSA has the Potato & Produce project, gathering truckloads of produce for distribution, and the Harvest of Hope, a retreat program for long-distance volunteers to glean and serve. Since 1995, the Society of Saint Andrew has maintained a presence throughout the state of Florida. The primary program, the Florida Gleaning Network, mobilizes over 3 thousand volunteers to gather 4 to 6 million pounds of produce annually. The Sunshine State is a veritable agricultural cornucopia, providing such produce as: onions, white potatoes, bok choy, peaches, pears, strawberries, cabbage, lemons, cucumbers, squash, starfruit, oranges, avocados, and the infamous Zellwood sweet corn.
The Florida office is located in Orlando and oversees all projects and events for the state. The state office team holds three full-time staff: the State Director, a Program Coordinator, and a Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. The state is sectioned off into geographical regions: South, East, West, West Central, Central, and the Panhandle. Each area holds a satellite gleaning coordinator position who works part-time to carry out gleans in the district.