From ATH Gleaning Coordinator Mariah Friend: Last year, After the Harvest provided over 3.6 million pounds of fresh produce to Harvesters and other local agencies through gleaning, picking up already harvested produce and bringing in truckloads of produce that might otherwise be destined for the landfill.

If you’re like me, 3.6 million is a number that’s hard to imagine, especially in terms of food. If you’ve gleaned with us, you might know that a sack of potatoes from Joe Steineger’s farm weighs about 75 lbs. A box of apples from Cider Hill is usually about 25 lbs., and a large bag of fresh kale or mustard greens from Boys Grow is about 3-5 lbs.

Still, it’s hard to put 3.6 million pounds into context. Where does all of that food go? How many hungry families can it feed? We’re spending the next few months to volunteer with many of the agencies that receive our donated produce to learn more and see things from their perspective.

On the first Friday of every month, Calvary Chapel COGIC in Kansas City hosts a Harvesters mobile pantry, providing free food to members of the community in need. Tom and Barb, two of our VEG Squad members, have been volunteering with the pantry for almost a year and encouraged us to join them. It was a great place to start.

Pulling into the icy parking lot at 8:30 a.m., I noticed the temperature gauge in my car read -2. After the snow and freezing weather, I wasn’t sure how many people would show up. Following the VOLUNTEER sign into the chapel, I was greeted by Burnice Bolen who often gleans with us, and his brother WT Bolen who picks up for us weekly at the Overland Park Farmer’s Market.

While we waited for the Harvesters’ truck to arrive, the volunteers laid out a table of fresh donuts and hot coffee. Curious about how a mobile pantry works, I asked Burnice a few questions. “Our church got this new building, and I wanted to do more for our community,” he explained. “Next month, it will  be one year since we’ve had Harvesters come on the first Friday. What you do is, you sign up and if there’s no one else in your zip code receiving food, they give you training and you can host a mobile pantry.”

Anyone from the community can come to receive food. Each month, COGIC serves about 700 people with the help of 40 volunteers who hand out an average of 12,000 pounds of food. They don’t have refrigeration so they don’t distribute meat, but they do get fresh produce and items like bread and milk.

At around 10:00 a.m. the Harvester’s truck arrived and people started trickling in from the cold as we began unloading boxes and pallets onto tables, stacking the excess behind us. Each family was given a number and a ticket with the amount of people in their family. Some were a family of four, others had up to ten people they were feeding.

Lining up with a shopping cart, families were given food from each table, organized by type. Emily and I were at the ‘greens’ station, handing out bags of cilantro, lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Seeing their empty carts fill up with the vegetables and fruit we often glean from the field was such a gratifying feeling!

This year, with your help, we hope to increase our fresh produce donations to over 5 million pounds. Rather than get lost in the numbers, I can picture the smiles on the faces of the people I gave cabbage and celery and spinach to. I can picture the community and collaboration it takes to put the vegetables we harvest from the field into the hands of the folks who need it the most. I can have confidence that our work is making a difference and that we’re not doing it alone.