A few years ago I spent a couple hours standing in the corner of the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf food pantry room while on a Vermont Life assignment. Trying my best to be unobtrusive, I observed dozens of diverse people coming through to select food for themselves and their families from among the boxes of cereal, cans of soup, bags of rice and other offerings.
I will never forget the excitement of one little boy whose mother let him select a few pieces of fresh fruit as part of their allotment, or an elderly man who stood there for almost as long as I did, patiently waiting for each replenishment of the fresh vegetable bins to get what he had his heart set on.
It is easy to forget ― especially at times of bountiful harvest ― that not everyone has enough to eat, and that fresh fruits and vegetables are particularly in demand.
Anti-hunger organizations in Vermont are working hard to provide more locally grown produce to those in need and although they always welcome donations of both food and funds to support their programs, there’s another way to help at this time of year that will cost you only time.
The Vermont Foodbank, which works with food shelves and other direct-service organizations like senior centers and after-school programs statewide, coordinates a gleaning program that depends on volunteers to help harvest excess produce from Vermont farms. Those farms, about 75 across the state, generously donate crops, but don’t have the time or staff to harvest them.
Michelle Wallace, the Foodbank’s gleaning program coordinator, says that now through the end of October is their busiest time of year. Because the Foodbank often does not have much advance warning of crops in need of gleaning, the most efficient way to find out about opportunities in your region is to join their weekly gleaning e-mail alert list. (See details below.)
What could be better than helping harvest chard, carrots or squash for a few hours on a beautiful fall day and knowing that you are helping neighbors in need?
To find out more about the Vermont Foodbank’s gleaning program, go to www.vtfoodbank.org. To be added to the gleaning weekly e-mail alert, email Michelle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (802) 477-4125.
During apple season, the Foodbank’s Pick for Your Neighbor program also offers a slightly different way to help. When you head to a Vermont apple orchard to pick a bushel or two of fragrant, rosy-cheeked apples, consider picking and purchasing an extra bag for your neighbors in need. The Foodbank will pick up apples from the orchards. Check the website for a list of participating orchards.