Community Outreach at the Island County Fair30 Aug 2018, by AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site in
Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.
One of the hardest but most rewarding parts of serving as a VISTA member is finding new volunteers, especially for someone with no prior experience in community outreach! In a relatively small, rural community like South Whidbey Island, where most news travels by word-of-mouth and networking is done through friends and family, it takes time to build a solid group of regular volunteers.
As part of the 2nd year VISTA project at Good Cheer Food Bank & Thrift Stores, VISTA members Brandi and Izzy set up an information table at the Island County Fair in Langley, held at the end of July. Because information booths can easily become overlooked background noise to fair-goers, they decided to add an interactive component – tasting samples! Using products made in the Good Cheer kitchen, including fruit leather, herb salt, and kale chips, along with a simple, informative display that included recipes, coloring sheets for the kids, and lots of photos, the two VISTA members got to spend three days talking to visitors and island residents – young and old – about Good Cheer and the Gleaning Program. Many people were familiar with Good Cheer’s thrift stores, an island mainstay, but not as many people knew about the food bank and the fruit tree gleaning program.
The fruit leather and kale chips were a huge hit, along with the printed recipes for each that were available for folks to take home. The fair was also a success as a community outreach campaign with more than a dozen new volunteers and tree donors signing up to join the gleaning program. Many local residents also took information about donating to Good Cheer; in-kind donations of fruit and veggies from home gardens, dropped off at the food bank by generous community members, accounts for a large part of the fresh produce offered at the food bank during the growing season.
More meaningful than the number of volunteers and donors who signed up were the many conversations with people who stopped to visit the Good Cheer booth. Kids trying fruit leather (like a fruit roll-up without the added sugar), long-time island residents expressing their love for Good Cheer as a part of the South Whidbey community, home gardeners and fruit tree owners who shared experience or knowledge about tree care and pest prevention, island visitors who stopped to chat and share their excitement at visiting Whidbey, all showed the importance of putting community into community outreach. Building connections with the people around us makes us all stronger in the end.