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Harvesting Solutions To End Hunger

April 24, 2014

Melissa Martin

Sweet potatoes were the No. 1 crop gleaned by Alabama volunteers in 2013

The smell of supper wafts through countless Alabama homes each night, but the rumbling sounds of hunger echo through thousands of living rooms in the state.

To help the state’s hungry, the Alfa Foundation renewed its commitment to putting food on plates with a $20,000 grant to the Alabama Gleaning Network of the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) — a pledge that fed roughly 1 million men, women and children in 2013.

“This contribution marks the ninth consecutive year Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation have worked with the Society of St. Andrew to reduce hunger,” said Federation and Alfa President Jimmy Parnell. “We’re proud to work together with an organization that makes use of surplus production on farms while feeding the state’s hungry. It’s a mutual partnership that benefits all involved.”

SoSA Regional Director for Alabama Linda Tozer said funding from organizations like the Alfa Foundation is the lifeblood of the program.

“Hunger is an issue across the world, but it hits especially close to home for around 20 percent of Alabama’s residents,” Tozer said. “Alfa’s recent grant of $20,000 helped provide residents across the state with 977,066 pounds of food that would have otherwise been wasted. Friends, fellow church members and neighbors didn’t go to bed hungry because of Alfa’s generosity.”

Working with farmers from across the state since 2001, SoSA and the Alabama Gleaning Network bring together farmers who have fruits and vegetables to donate with volunteers who are willing to glean the produce directly from the farms or pick up foods that went unsold at farmers’ markets. Gathered produce is given to agencies in that area for soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food pantries.

“In 2013, we worked with 137 different agencies, 150 different farmers and 4,000 volunteers who all had one goal — to feed as many people in their communities as possible,” Tozer said. “Unless the quantities given are so large the agencies in that area can’t handle it all, donations received feed the people in the respective communities. It’s our way to ensure the food stays close to the farmers who grew it and allows us to operate without the need of several warehouses.”

The majority of food given to the less fortunate through SoSA goes from farm-to-plate that same day, Tozer said.

“We immediately take food to agencies that feed the hungry or directly to the individual or family who needs it, depending on our volunteers’ availability,” she explained. “Putting food on the plate the same day we receive it costs only 2 cents a serving or 6 cents a pound to do and helps reduce our expenditures. For every $1 donated, only 3 cents goes to overhead costs. Our pennies matter a great deal.”

Tozer said SoSA can do a lot with very little because of farmers’ generosity and volunteers’ willingness to transport food the same day it’s received.

John Aplin of Aplin Farms in Geneva County has donated crops through SoSA and the Alabama Gleaning Network for the past decade. He said he’s glad the fruits and vegetables on his farm aren’t going to waste.

“Last year, volunteers gleaned a little more than 7,000 pounds of tomatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes and other vegetables from my fields alone,” said Aplin, who grows more than 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables on around 200 acres. “If they had found more volunteers, that 7,000 pounds could have easily been 70,000 pounds. The produce they gleaned was perfectly healthy and edible; it just wasn’t marketable. Plus, we’ve had a tough time finding enough labor to work the fields the last couple years, and we don’t have the time or resources to get everything. I love working with the folks at SoSA because I know they’re doing all they can for the folks in this community. It makes all the difference.”

Alfa’s first contribution in 2004 helped fund SoSA’s regional office development in Birmingham used to coordinate the Alabama Gleaning Network. Grants since have helped feed around 1 million residents annually.

To volunteer time or donate produce, contact the Alabama Gleaning Network at (205) 245-3215 or sign up online at EndHunger.org. 


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