Through the Florida Gleaning Network, volunteers are coordinated across the state to enter fields and groves after farmers have finished harvesting to pick up tons of good produce left behind. Volunteers represent groups from various religions, church denominations, youth groups, corporate and civic organizations, individuals, and inner city residents. Often those who receive food participate in our gleaning events. This is especially true in North Florida where many of the food pantries bring their clients to the fields with them to glean for others as well as themselves. Last year, thousands of volunteers gleaned four million pounds of a wide variety of produce in Florida. Although there are over two thousand volunteer contacts in the Florida database, there is always room for more.
Because the office is in charge of gleanings statewide, recruitment is necessary to find the part-time help to see the events through via satellite area coordinators. The Program Coordinator and VISTA travel to events such as college fairs, church mission conventions, and nonprofit workshops to advertise for open positions in that area. Farms, and agencies are also a priority to recruit for and each has a different strategy. Volunteers are recruited primarily through their affiliated organizations. Colleges, churches and organizations all allow for recruiting to larger pools of volunteers that are more likely to come out collectively than individually. Existing connections with established churches and schools make the ideal way to find multiple volunteers.
For churches, this can be speaking on Sunday with a short “minute for mission” dialogue to say thank you and to remind the congregation of what it is that SoSA does.
For colleges, there are opportunities to visit career fairs to reach out and find volunteer coordinators as well as volunteer gleaners. There are a large number of students who need to fill their volunteer hours to graduate and can do so with SoSA. Gleaning provides community service opportunities for those who are mandated to fulfill them and for those who seek to do good for the community.
Repeat gleaners and volunteer coordinators are often found through existing partnerships with local churches or colleges. This way, whenever they have a need for activities for volunteers, we can provide them with meaningful work. The approach SoSA takes is to capture people’s interest with facts and information about hunger and poverty in America. When the right people are informed, they will rise to the occasion and help make a difference in their community. When those volunteers get a chance to see for themselves what we do and are more actively involved in gleans and events, they are more likely to stay with the organization and may be interested in a position within their community coordinating local gleanings part time. It takes passionate people who understand the issues and are willing to make a change in their own lives.
On the day of a gleaning, the coordinator will stress the importance of the volunteer to the work they do, and thank them for their time and consideration. It is a small thank you, but can lead to a better overall experience knowing that the food they helped pick will feed a hungry family. After a volunteer event, a thank you is posted through social media with pictures and information including pounds collected and locations of distribution. Every year, there is an annual event held just for the volunteers that have contributed at one point. The event is simply to honor those who support SoSA, to say thank you in the bigger way, and provide an evening of fun and community.
Since 1995, the Society of St. Andrew has operated a statewide, volunteer-driven Gleaning Network in Florida that coordinates with local farmers, thousands of volunteers, and food providing agencies. The Florida Gleaning Network is going strong, providing millions of pounds of fresh produce for the hungry each year. Though an agriculturally diverse state, citrus has been a top yielding produce in Florida; with four citrus drives per year, Florida gleaners save and distribute over a half million pounds of sweet oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and lemons. In addition to citrus, the Florida office salvages everything from onions and white potatoes to strawberries, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, and that ever so famous Zellwood sweet corn.
The Florida office is located in Central Florida (Orlando) and oversees all projects and events for the state. The state office team holds two full-time employees: a Regional Director currently for Florida and Georgia, and a Program Coordinator, along with a Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA. The state is sectioned off into North, South, East, West, Central, and Panhandle. Each area holds a satellite gleaning coordinator position who works part time to carry out gleans in the area.