From ATH Gleaning Coordinator Mariah Friend: “Thank you for helping make our dream a reality,” Ron says to me after wiping beads of sweat from his brow. A cooling breeze ripples through the trees, offering a nice break from the heat. As far as I can see there is only prairie grass and rolling hills. It’s a warm July morning and we’ve been harvesting corn from one of several garden plots he tends to with his wife, Sue. Everything they grow on their property is donated to food pantries and local communities in need. It’s their way of giving back, he explains.

Another Saturday morning I’m at Cider Hill working with a group of volunteers picking apples (and tasting some, too!) when one of the volunteers gives me a hug before leaving. “This has been wonderful,” she says. The kids are laughing and running through shady trees with branches bent under the weight of shiny red and green fruit, as geese fly overhead, calling to each other in the distance. After just a few hours of work, we’ve gleaned almost 1,000 pounds of apples, putting them in boxes filling our new van and a flatbed trailer.

Parking next to Westside CAN, I start unloading the apples which are ripe and ready to eat. Several men from under the bridge come out of the shadows to help me carry them inside. We set them down on tables with food for the hungry and I notice a colorful display of candles, photos of a woman, and paper flags hanging from the ceiling.

I ask Jose who the woman in the photos is and he tells me it’s Lynda, the founder of Westside CAN who recently passed away. He shares her story and tells me that she had a vision for the people of the neighborhood. Thanks to their many programs, crime has been on the decline in the area and many families are able to benefit from the food, school supplies, and other services they offer. The altar is a way for people to honor her and show their respects.

I tell him that the artwork and mural remind me of my travels in Mexico. His face lights up as we talk in Spanish for a few more minutes and I listen to the difference our donation will make for the people in the area. “Muchas gracias,” he says and I leave feeling filled up with gratitude and joy. “This is my job,” I think with a smile on my face. It’s an honor and a privilege to work with the farmers, volunteers, and organizations who complete the circle of appreciation.