A Jesuit Volunteer started the Pierce County Gleaning Project (PCGP) in 2009 at St. Leo’s Food Connection, (St. Leo’s), a large food bank located in downtown Tacoma. In the past, Washington State University (WSU) Extension ran a gleaning program in Pierce County, but that ended in the early 2000s, making the PCGP the first organized gleaning effort in Pierce County in years. In late fall of 2010, the PCGP grew with the placement of an AmeriCorps*VISTA gleaning coordinator at Emergency Food Network (EFN), a food bank distributor in Lakewood, WA. EFN has been part of the local community since 1982, supplying up to 80 percent of the food given out by the 67 food banks in Pierce County, and is working toward the goal of supplying its partner food banks with 60 percent fresh produce. With access to the resources of EFN and St. Leo’s, the PCGP has quickly grown to help meet the needs of its county, in which 147,000 individuals visit food banks or hot meal sites every month.
In its first year, the Pierce County Gleaning Project was focused on an urban fruit tree harvest and gleaning the downtown farmers market. In the second and third years, the PCGP expanded to include a larger fruit tree harvest in Pierce County, gleaning from farms as well as farmers markets, and collaborates with the Tacoma/Pierce County Community Gardens on a Plant a Row for the Hungry/Share the Harvest for county gardeners. As the Jesuit Volunteer gleaning position at St. Leo’s is no longer available, the PCGP is currently run by the AmeriCorps*VISTA Gleaning Coordinator and PCGP volunteers. Through its expanded focus and numerous community outreach events, the PCGP is becoming an important part of its community emergency food system.