From ATH Gleaning Coordinator Tekia Thompson (pictured here with Grower Norman Vanbooven): “One of the best parts of my job as a gleaner is visiting with our farmers. Gosh, do I love me some Mr. Norman! He gives great hugs, is such a joy and is always giving me sound “country boy” advice as he calls it like “T, I tell ya, sometimes it’s not on your bucket list but the Good Lord always has a good plan!”

If you’d asked me years ago what I’d be doing with my life, I’m pretty sure working as a Gleaning Coordinator for After the Harvest would never have been part of my response. But alas, here I am. And I love it! I love knowing that I get to lead groups of amazing people in gleaning fruits and vegetables that we share with those in need. I love knowing that we are helping to eliminate food waste and building up a community. This job is so far off from what I’d ever imagined I’d be doing. In fact, if you followed my plan from years gone by, you would notice that I should be a CEO of major company sitting in my corner office by now. I should. But I’m not. Since I mentioned it, you know, I don’t like that word should. It seems so innocent, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. It leads you through an endless maze of comparison. My friend now tells me “Tekia, stop ‘SHOULD’-ING on yourself!”

Some years back, I found myself tossing that word out the door when I got the news that my director-level position at a very popular non-profit was being eliminated. “It’s the budget you understand, Tekia. But you ‘should’ land on your feet.” And there it was. That word! That “should” word. It took on a whole new meaning that day. And I’ve hated it ever since. I should’ve landed on my feet. I should’ve gotten another well-paying job quickly. I SHOULD have. But I didn’t. Instead, I got several jobs to make up for the one job I lost. I’m a penny pincher by nature so living off less wasn’t an issue for me. But the bills weren’t less. The bills didn’t care that I had less money—they just wanted to get paid. And though I believed my savings should have helped me stay afloat, it didn’t. Bills that were so easily paid were being tossed into various piles labeled “pay immediately”, “wait a few more days” and the scariest pile of all, “wait until the very last minute”.

I found myself reprioritizing my basic needs when the funds seemed to slowly disappear. Bills or groceries. Now I’m not saying these were the only needs I had to choose between, but they were always at the very top of the list. Each time I found myself choosing to pay the bills and not stocking up on groceries. I told myself, “I can live off gas station hotdogs for awhile, right? Groceries are pricey, especially fruits and veggies.” Listen folks, as good as those hotdogs are (and mercy, they are tasty), your body needs fresh, healthy produce if you want to keep rocking at this thing called life. It’s hard to get yourself going when you don’t have the proper fuel. So, I was terrified. The money just wasn’t there. Now I can make a dollar stretch, but even I knew that can only go so far.

Contrary to what you may hear in this world, we are not meant to do life alone. So I sought help and reached out to my church’s food pantry. What a blessing I received. It’s a humbling experience, isn’t it? To ask. To rely on the kindness and grace of others, often total strangers. But friends, today, right now in our communities, perhaps even next door to you, that’s what so many of our families are doing. Humbling themselves and asking. Asking for nutritious food to sustain them so they can keep going. So they can refuel. And that’s where After the Harvest shines. The fresh produce I received from the pantry was kindly and graciously donated by After the Harvest to one of our partner agencies who then delivered it to my church for distribution. You see, karma isn’t always so hateful. I’m now working for the very organization that helped to give me a boost and so many others years ago. Your mind is blown, right? Mine too!

At After the Harvest, we don’t just go and pick up any old thing and toss it in the bin. We glean fresh produce, carefully package and deliver to agencies and organizations that feed those in need. And let’s be honest, we do more than that. We provide hope by reminding our community that what may seem useless (i.e. leftover produce) is in fact, priceless like the individuals and families we help to serve. I often wrap up my gleaning events with a thank you and share with volunteers how much it means to me personally that they have chosen to spend their time gleaning.

I also thank them for choosing to give financially. Those financial contributions don’t go towards outlandish salaries or fancy corporate trips. Those donations, correction, YOUR donations allow us to stay in the field. They allow us to partner with more farmers, more gardeners and more agencies to bring healthy food to the tables of families in need. At this point I know I should be asking you to empty your pockets. I mean, Giving Tuesday is fast approaching (Nov. 27).

But I’ve learned that “should”-ing” never gets you anywhere. But asking. Now that’s a game changer. Because asking got me to where I am now. A place where I’m thriving and able to help others do the same. So, friends, I’m asking. I’m asking you to donate to After the Harvest. I’m asking you to help us glean more, give more and feed more.