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AmeriCorps VISTA Tag

Why do you glean?

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Sharah Truett is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at the WSU Extension office in Port Angeles, WA.

VISTA member Sharah Truett interviewed several gleaning volunteers during the 2018 harvest season to find out what personally motivated them to glean.  Here is what they had to say:

“It doesn’t take much to end up in a predicament,” acknowledged gleaner Cindy Schrader.  She’s speaking from experience from a brief period in her life when she didn’t have enough food to eat. “I was a single mom living in Nebraska, living paycheck to paycheck.  My co-workers came to my rescue…they bailed me out with sacks of groceries when I was going through some really rough times.”

Now, as a gleaning volunteer, Cindy has the ability to help others get healthy food on their table.

Karlena Brailey, a long time gleaner with the program, participates in order to “personally have a connection to the food system and to give her daughter a connection to the land.” During a time in her life when her cost of living exceeded her income, she says gleaning “was like a gift…”  She loved feeling like she “didn’t have to ration seasonal produce”.  Nowadays Karlena donates a great deal of gleaned produce to the food banks because “it benefits community health in a significant way.”

Another enthusiastic supporter of the gleaning program is Forks resident Jody Schroeder, who even organized a gleaning event on his own this year. When asked what motivates him, he says, ” As a young father in the military, I had, on occasion, needed to go visit my local food bank for help through the government commodities program. If I can help another father with food for his kids, I will. There is nothing worse, I feel, than seeing food go to waste in someone’s garden when it could benefit some family with hungry children.”

Over and over again, the gleaners whom Sharah interviewed spoke of the importance of giving back.  They remembered times in their own lives when they were food insecure and friends, family, and even strangers stepped in to help them out.  Now they glean in order to bring healthy food to others who are struggling.

Jody Schroeder is now the president of a local food bank and loves seeing those shelves stocked with local produce. He says, “If people have extra food from their gardens, by all means, DONATE IT!  If you can’t pick it, call the gleaners.  Don’t let it rot on the vine when you can help feed the hungry…Nobody should go hungry.”

 

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Welcome, Robyn!

06.12.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Robyn Glessner was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She went to school in Seattle for a short time after high school before returning to Idaho to pursue a degree in International Business and French at the University of Idaho. She received her degree in December of 2017 after returning from a semester abroad in Pau, France. She had continued to work at a former college job as a barista in small local coffee shop before she started to explore what other avenues there were in the community for her to use to start developing professional skills as a working adult. Drawing on the values learned in a prior United Nations course from her undergrad, she knew that she wanted to do something that would benefit the health and sustainability of human practices and the earth’s resources. She began working at a privately owned, organic vineyard in the Snake River Valley, pruning grape vines. After that season ended she began working the spring growing season with a local, organic vegetable farm and a sustainable farming education non-profit in Moscow, Idaho. Through work with the farming non-profit, she was connected with this VISTA position in Pullman, Washington at the Community Action Center. She owes her success in finding this amazing opportunities in the community to the new acquaintances that were made who were so well integrated in the sustainable farming movement in the Palouse region. She is continually inspired with the collaboration, teamwork, support and resources that are created by the amazing community of farmers, educators, non-profit leaders, and university resources to make up this amazing team of sustainable farming cheerleaders. These people inspired her to serve in this field of local hunger awareness and relief.

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their moto’s is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

 

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Welcome, Malik!

30.11.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Hello y’all,

I’m very excited to give some information on Community Food Share and the Garden Share Program that I will be coordinating this year. Community Food Share is a non-profit organization that looks to eliminate poverty in Boulder and Broomfield counties of Colorado, a problem that is faced by every 1 in 8 people here. With a major emphasis on fresh produce and protein, Community Food Share has been working with local food companies, private and public donors, and independent and corporate food volunteers since 1981 to help our neighbors in need. We also serve as one of the few national food banks that don’t charge our participants or food pantries for food, which is something we take great pride in. We do this while also managing to provide food, over 75% of which is fresh produce and protein including milk, beef, chicken, and eggs. Within Community Food Share is the Garden Share Program, which helps coordinate with local farmers, gardeners, and green-thumbers to help bring in fresh, locally grown produce. A major component of Garden Share is the gleaning program that happens, where volunteers come to a local garden or farm and help to pick the produce that may otherwise be thrown away or not bought at the store, or as we generally call them, “the seconds”. With this program in the past two years we have helped to save over 40,000 pounds in gleans alone, with another over 200,000 pounds coming from local farmer donations, and I can’t wait to build on those numbers!

Some background info about me: I’m a recent spring 2018 graduate from the University of Iowa with a degree in Enterprise Leadership and a minor in Psychology. The major areas of focus for my degree were entrepreneurial, social, and leadership studies paired with practical business skills and etiquette. My previous position before coming to Community Food Share was an apprentice with Grow: Johnson County, a non-profit, organic farm that harvests and donates all of the crops from about 4.5 acres to local area food missions, such as broccoli, onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, okra, and some 70 other crops. This past harvest season we donated over 40,000 pounds of organic produce to community partners in the Johnson County area to help distribute to our neighbors in need of good food. While working with Grow, I developed the strong belief that good food is a human right, and I full-heartedly believe that mantra and love supporting organizations and people pushing for that same right for all. Some passions and hobbies of mine include gardening, cooking, reading, writing, traveling, and being involved with almost anything outdoors.

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The Community Action Center in Pullman, WA Hosts Volunteer Appreciation Month for October

24.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Michelle Blankas, serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and Community Food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and Basic Food. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. One of the topics brought up throughout the Palouse Region, in the Palouse Tables Project, is how to engage and maintain volunteers throughout the year. One way to engage is through volunteer appreciation.

 

The AmeriCorps VISTA organized an Ice Cream and Coffee Social Hour for Volunteer Appreciation Month at the Community Action Center in Pullman.

For the month of October, the VISTA organized ways to appreciate the work that Community Action Center volunteers do. The last event planned for volunteer appreciation was in 2015 and was received with mixed emotions. Many of the long term volunteers did not feel the need to be outwardly appreciated or hold appreciation events at the same time as orientation events. It was about time to do something special for them again but with their added input.

 

The Volunteer Appreciation Bulletin Board

The VISTA organized October as Volunteer Appreciation Month which included a bulletin in the lobby showcasing some of the volunteers and their reason for volunteering, soliciting donations for volunteer t-shirts and food items such as local pizza. The VISTA also coordinated a Coffee and Ice Cream Social Hour with long-term volunteers where they reflected on their experiences as volunteers and spent time with Community Food workers from the Community Action Center. This allowed for unstructured conversation with a small token of appreciation for all the hard work long-term volunteers do in a way that did not single any one person out.

Short-term volunteers that show up a few times a month were invited to participate in the Volunteer Bulletin Board and to wear Community Action Center Volunteer SWAG. These t-shirts were provided through donations from the community that the VISTA organized. This allowed for the food bank and the Whitman County community to recognize the work of volunteers.

These smaller actions of appreciation are easy to replicate and satisfy volunteers of different backgrounds and age groups in the future. These can be replicated throughout the year or once a year depending on the capacity of the agency and allow for creativity and flexibility.

 

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Cider Pressing Preserves Fall Apples on Vashon

11.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, Sam works with a range of programs to bring in more island grown food to offer Food Bank customers.

Ahh it’s finally fall, a time many would call the most wonderful season of the year. The air is turning crisp, pumpkins, squash, and garlic abound, the leaves are changing colors, and… apples are everywhere! This has been an especially fruitful (pun intended) year for Washington fruit trees, and on Vashon Island it’s difficult to drive down a street without noticing an apple tree burdened with the weight of beautiful red and green fruit.

As a result of the abundance of fruit on the island, the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank has a received a plethora of fresh, island-grown fruit throughout the late summer and fall. While it’s a special thing for a hunger relief organization to be able to offer so much locally grown produce, the organization has found that it cannot distribute the fruit-mainly apples, pears, and plums-as fast as they are coming in. One way many residents of the island, as well as folks all across Washington, deal with this issue is by pressing the fruit into juice, and that is exactly what Harvest VISTA Sam Carp sought to do with the 30+ crates of apples the Food Bank had waiting in storage.

Working with one of the local cub scout troops, Sam and the Food Bank warehouse manager organized a cider pressing event to be hosted in front of the Food Bank garden. They worked with the Vashon Fruit Club to purchase half-gallon plastic jugs to store the cider, and were able to borrow a Meadow Creature cider press from Dragonshead Cider, a local cidery. With the help of the 10,000 lbs of pressing force supplied by the cider press, and the labor power of the cub scouts and their parents, the team was able to press all of the apples within about an hour and a half. It was a wonderful event, complete with music, snacks, and a view of Mount Rainier, and it will most certainly become a tradition at the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for years to come.

 

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Food Bank Staff Offers Many Hands in Harvest

04.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Brianna Nash, serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Servicing the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, equal to 22,500 meals a day. Along with 41 partner agencies, Community Food Share distributes food with an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna works as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

“Many hands make light work.”  VISTA Brianna has seen a great deal of volunteer groups make their way through the fields and gardens this season, and this phrase always rings true at the end of a day spent harvesting. In September, Brianna organized many hands from Community Food Share to volunteer at the food bank’s partner gardens – benefiting grower, harvester, and receiver along the way.

Community Food Share’s garden partner, Earth’s Table, grows 100% of its produce –from six large gardens – entirely for Community Food Share and  partner agencies of the food bank. The operation is also 100% volunteer-powered by hardworking garden managers, and a large network of volunteers throughout the community. So far this year the gardens have donated more than 27,000 pounds of food to Community Food Share and its partners.

The first VISTA at Community Food Share thought a great way to give back to these gardens would be to organize a food bank staff volunteer event. In keeping this tradition, VISTA Brianna organized the 2018 staff garden day for an afternoon in September.  During the normally scheduled staff meeting, all available employees made their way out to the garden and got to work! Garden Manager Michele had everyone doing a variety of activities, everything from pulling old squash and cucumber plants to harvesting tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and green beans. 

Not only was this a perfect way to have fun outside with fellow coworkers, but it was also necessary time spent connecting to the core of Community Food Share’s mission in providing healthy and nutritious food.  These kinds of events drive home the message of farm to food bank, plant to plate, garden to grocery (however you’d like to call it) – Community Food Share’s staff walked away with plenty of smiles and (hopefully!) very happy hearts. At the end of the day 13 staff members dedicated 24 hours of time in harvesting 424 pounds of squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and beans to be distributed the next three days at the food bank pantry. Many hands made light work!

 

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Gleaning with Refugee Connections

27.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Project in Spokane, Washington, a branch of Harvest Against Hunger. SETP focuses on coordinating volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste.

 

This September, HAHA VISTA Annie made a special partnership in the community. Dedicated to mobilizing volunteers to harvest fruit from unwanted trees, SETP aided in mobilizing refugee citizens to share in the bounty of fresh produce that would have otherwise gone to waste by partnering with Refugee Connections.

 

Refugee Connections is an organization committed to empowering refugee citizens to thrive in the Spokane community. One way of doing this is to see that these community members can get outside to harvest fruits and vegetables, bringing them back to their own communities. Together, SETP and Refugee Connections gleaned 243 pounds of apples and 246 pounds of plums. With buckets, crates, and boxes filled to the brim with the abundant fruit, the produce was taken back to the homes of the refugees. Upon arrival, the community members bagged up the produce for each of the 28 apartment units, feeding approximately 80 people who lived in the community. The volunteers were able to enjoy a sunny morning of harvesting, time spent with friends, and the satisfaction of contributing wholesome food to their loved ones.
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Community Outreach at the Island County Fair

30.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

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.

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Gleaning with Urban Abundance

17.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Allie Van Nostran serves with Urban Abundance, a project of Slow Food Southwest Washington in Vancouver. Slow Food International seeks to rescue local food traditions and promote “clean, fair food for all.” To this end, Urban Abundance engages volunteers in harvest and stewardship of four community orchards across Clark County. The fresh fruit is rescued from the waste stream and shared with hungry neighbors who need it most.

 

 

Harvest season is well underway in Clark County, Washington! Urban Abundance is hard at work connecting with tree owners, recruiting volunteers and organizing harvest parties to harvest and share fresh fruit. In just two weeks, Urban Abundance has held three harvest events, drawing 25 volunteers altogether. All in all, Urban Abundance has harvested over 800 pounds of fruit, donating over 600 pounds to the Clark County Food Bank and other local pantries. Volunteers are invited to share in the harvest, and buggy/scabby/damaged fruit that can’t be donated is given away, left for wildlife, composted, or donated to the WSU Extension for fruit pest research!

 

 

Volunteers and tree owners have been enthusiastic and appreciative. After a recent harvest event, one volunteer recommended Urban Abundance on Facebook, saying, “What a great concept! Reduce food waste while providing much-needed nutrition to families in Clark County. Can’t say enough about how awesome Urban Abundance is!”

 

 

Another said, “It’s a win-win: good stuff gets donated to food banks and you get to take some home.” 

 

 

One tree owner, who works the graveyard shift, was inside asleep while Urban Abundance volunteers harvested her apple tree. The next day, she texted, “I got off early this morning – still dark – so couldn’t see much, but it *looked* like a lot of apples had been picked. Jaw dropped when I took a look when it got light. Wow! 200 lbs! You guys did a great job, and no, I didn’t hear a thing!”

 

 

Volunteer registration and calls and emails about local fruit trees are pouring in. Pear harvest is in full swing at this point, and Urban Abundance will be holding double daily harvests for the next two weeks to thoroughly harvest two large Bartlett pear orchards in the area. They anticipate many dozens of volunteers and multiple tons of pears for the Food Bank by the time all is said and done! With the support of Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance continues to build community awareness and support for this important project and increase access to fresh, local fruit in Clark County.

 

 

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Farm Appreciation Potluck

19.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. Sam hosted a potluck for a network of farm apprentices on Vashon Island last week in an effort to create a space to discuss food justice and hunger in the Vashon community. The event went wonderfully, and Sam hopes to host another event soon!

It was a warm, clear Thursday evening and Mount Rainier was out in full view from atop the hill where the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank sits, a perfect time for a farm apprentice potluck. Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Sam Carp was busy reviewing the questions he had written down to discuss at the picnic tables outside of the Food Bank garden when farm interns and WWOOFers began to show up, dishes in hand.

Vashon Island has many small farms, each that contributes to the community in its own special, niche way. For a while, it had been Sam’s goal to bring people from each farm together to discuss food justice and how small-scale agriculture can impact hunger in nearby communities. Hosting an event where young farmers-in-training can learn about the Food Bank and its own involvement in local growing was a perfect opportunity to do just that.

 

 

The event was hosted as part of the CRAFT network, or Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. It is a program that has been started in many communities throughout the world to try to enhance educational opportunities for farm apprentices who only receive small cash stipends or room and board as payment. Apprentices visit other farms, producers, food justice organizations, and culinary operations to learn more about the food system as a whole, and to recognize from different lenses the ways the world is impacted by food and agriculture.

During the potluck, apprentices were given the opportunity to meet one another, engage in meaningful conversation, discuss the different agricultural and hunger issues facing society today, and receive a tour of the Food Bank. The tour was then followed by a short work party in the Food Bank garden where apprentices helped to weed between beds of summer squash, lettuce, cucumbers, and peppers.

Opportunities to come together over food to discuss the major issues facing not only small communities, but larger cities, states, or even the world as a whole are vital in helping to unite community members over a common goal. It is Sam’s hope that he can host events like this more often throughout the rest of his time as a VISTA. Not only was he able to learn a great deal about the farms in his community and connect with young adults interested in food justice, but the food shared around the table was delicious!

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