From Mariah Friend, After the Harvest Gleaning Coordinator: The weather outside finally looks like December–the clouds are gray and there has been a sprinkling of snow on the ground. We’ve had our multiple  hard frosts, which means the gleaning season is winding down (although we’re still planning our final one for tomorrow!), just as we make our way through the holiday season. While I’m happy to be taking a break from picking turnips for awhile, the end of the harvest has me thinking about hunger, especially as we gather to celebrate.

According to the Missouri Hunger Atlas, 7.9 percent of Missouri households are hungry. An additional 8.9 percent of households report reducing the amount, variety, or desirability of their diets due to inadequate resources. These numbers mean almost one million Missourians experience hunger or food insecurity during the year. Unfortunately, this number is on the rise and has seen the highest percentage increase of households with very low food security in the entire country.

Even though I have always intellectually understood the importance of the work we do at After the Harvest–donating millions of pounds of fresh produce to agencies who feed hungry people in our community– it recently hit home on a heart level, too. Not long ago, I was fortunate enough to gather around an abundant table of food prepared for friends and family. While explaining my job as a Gleaning Coordinator to a relative, she asked me if there were any pantries we donated to in the Oak Grove area, where she lives.

I told her yes.

“I usually go once a month, but they don’t often have vegetables or fruit,” she said. “I can get bread and things like sugar and cereal, but I would love some fresh food too.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard expressed before, but never from someone in my own family. Hunger had always been a statistic, but now it had a name.

“A lot of times I’ll pick up extra for my neighbors,” she continued. “I know they’re also struggling, like me. So anything I can bring them I will. People go hungry because you have to pay your other bills–you have to make sure your rent and electricity get paid every month, you have to keep gas in your car, but if you come up short, you can always spend less money on food.”

I nodded in agreement. It makes sense.

Another relative chimed in across the table. “I applied for food stamps and was approved, but they only give me $16 a month,” she said with some frustration. She’s a recent college graduate, working full-time hours at an entry level job in her field. Money is tight and when an unexpected expense comes up, her grocery budget can feel the squeeze first. She’s active and healthy, but can’t always afford the healthiest options at the store.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of making certain assumptions about people who are food insecure. I’ve given them certain qualities or circumstances and put them into categories without really meaning to. I want that to change.

This Holiday Season we’re campaigning to continue providing healthy food for hungry people in our communities-and our families. We’re able to do that by securing truckloads full of donated produce that go directly to Harvesters. By paying for costs such as packaging and handling, we’re able to ensure families have access to produce throughout the winter.

The gleaning season may be coming to an end, but our commitment to supplying our neighbors with fresh produce still needs your support! Please consider contributing to and sharing our “Buck$ for Trucks online fundraiser. Help us make “hunger” and “holidays” two words that don’t belong together.

To all of the volunteers I’ve had the pleasure of working with this summer, thank you! Your dedication and service have both humbled and inspired me. Happy Holidays!