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Volunteers Tag

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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Egg-citing News from Florida: Growing community relationships in local schools

06.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Sowing the seeds of change starts at the roots of society. If we seek to end hunger and poverty, arming our youth is the first step. Fostering these relationships can sprout new ones, and introduce positive change into an otherwise challenging system.

An example of this cultivation is East Ridge High school. Located in Clermont, Florida on the outskirts of Orlando, East Ridge has approximately 3,000 students. At first glance, nothing immediately strikes the passerby as remarkable. But past the soccer fields and outbuildings lies a 10,000 square foot garden and classroom. Here teachers, students, and community members work to not only teach, but empower and feed.

Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site the Society of Saint Andrew have joined that mission, caring for the garden in the summer months. Students and staff grow organic produce such as eggplant and tomato, in addition to caring for cattle at the facility. Not only do students learn on the field first-hand, but the produce grown goes back into their community. During the school year, East Ridge pupils take home the fruits of their labors free of charge. However, during breaks there are no students to tend the fields, and the crops went to waste. So over the summer months, SoSA took the helm to distribute over 2 thousand pounds food for the needy at local agencies. This collaboration culminated in a local news story, and continues to this day.

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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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Springing into action at the Bayview Farmers Market

03.05.2018 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.

 

After the teaser of sunshine and warm days last week, the rain came back just in time for the first Farmers Market at Bayview Corner just south of Langley WA, but that didn’t keep anyone away. A local group of marimba players were cheering up shoppers as they browsed through the first offerings from farmers and crafters from around South Whidbey Island.

 

The current crop of garden apprentices – Annie, Tran, and Kathryn (minus Grayson who was visiting family in Denver) – and the new AmeriCorps VISTA member – Brandi Blais – met with Lissa Firor, Produce manager for the Good Cheer Food Bank, to learn the process for gleaning produce from the Bayview Farmers Market. After going over the general procedure for checking in (for Kathryn and Tran, apprentices at the South Whidbey School Garden, who don’t get over to Good Cheer very often) the first step was to grab the cart and a few sturdy plastic totes.

 

Checking in and grabbing the cart from the Good Cheer Garden shed

 

Next, the crew headed over to the market, about a 5-minute walk through the Good Cheer garden and past the historic Bayview building. Aiming to arrive just before the market closed, so that farmers and shoppers wouldn’t feel crowded by the gleaners, the crew made their way through the market, with Lissa providing introductions to the some of the farm partners as they wound down from a fun and successful first market of the season.

 

Heading through the garden and off to market

 

Good Cheer has many long-term partners in the local farming community, and the warm relationship is evident in the welcoming smiles and cheerful hellos from folks like Bill from Bur Oak Acres and Arwen from Skyroot Farm. Annie and Nathan from Deep Harvest and Foxtail donated kohlrabi, kale, and radishes, along with a few early season herbs. Other gleanings included bok choy, salad mix, and collards.

 

Stopping by Deep Harvest’s farm stand to visit Annie

 

As the cart and crew made their way through the market, a few generous farmers stepped out from behind their tables to drop kale, herbs, or (what else did we get) into the cart.

After a quick stop at Lesedi Farm and African Food for samosas and a detour past the tiny free library, the gleaners made the short walk back to Good Cheer to weigh in and record the day’s catch. In the end, 24 pounds of produce was collected. Donations are tracked, bins labeled, and produce stored in the walk-in cooler for repacking and distribution on the Monday morning following the Saturday market. Produce from the farmer’s market has its own special spot in the cooler, and the entire cooler is organized in a way that keeps things circulating, making sure that customers get the freshest possible produce.

 

Not a bad haul for the first market of the year!

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First Week In Tifton, GA

22.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest against Hunger Americorps Vista Taylor Rotsted is serving as a gleaning specialist in southern Georgia at her Host Site, the Society of Saint Andrew (SOSA). The Society of Saint Andrew in Georgia has provided people in need more than 15 million pounds of salvaged potatoes and other produce through the Potato and Produce Project. This has resulted in approximately 45 million servings of food going to Georgia’s hungry. SOSA works with both volunteers and farmers to grow the Georgia Gleaning Network and glean fresh produce, reduce food waste and alleviate hunger throughout the state.

 

Getting your hands dirty takes on a new meaning when you’re gleaning. The work isn’t ‘romantic’, good photo ops are far and few between and volunteers are difficult to assemble (especially at 8 am on a weekday). Recruiting volunteers to glean is not like coordinating other community events. There are last minute changes and a degree of flexibility needed from volunteers that makes it difficult to coordinate with larger groups and organizations. Thankfully, Taylor discovered a good source of volunteers early on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taylor’s first week of service took her through the whole cycle of ‘feeding America’s hungry’. She harvested food from the field, distributed to agencies, distributed hand to hand, and worked at the soup kitchen to cook for and serve the hungry. She enjoyed helping people in need but the experience was also beneficial for connecting with potential volunteers and leads on new farmer donors. It’s similar to finding good workers in the private industry; if you can’t hiring within – see who your competitors have. Even though those organizations aren’t exactly competitors – sharing volunteers has been a beneficial practice. As they say ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’. Also, Taylor realized that many of the more involved volunteers are also the ones that Harvest against Hunger and the Society of Saint Andrews serve. With a unique volunteer opportunity like gleaning, recruiting in unique places is only logical.   

 

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