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Gleaning program fights hunger in U.S.

10/7/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMTV video report, "Apple Harvest," is available with this report.

A UMNS Report By Nancye Willis*



An ecumenical ministry founded more than 20 years ago by two United Methodist ministers is taking the ancient practice of gleaning into the 21st century.

Gleaning - gathering surplus food left behind after a harvest - is what Ralph Goings, an official with the Dallas office of the Society of St. Andrew, calls "a stewardship ministry."

The Society of St. Andrew, founded in 1979 by the Rev. Kenneth C. Horne Jr. and the Rev. Ray Buchanan, builds on the generosity of farmers and volunteers to feed thousands of hungry people across the United States.

The food, Goings says, "is God's gift. We are just seeing this gift is passed onto people who are hungry."

After a recent apple harvest, coordinated through the Society of St. Andrew, volunteers were allowed in to harvested orchards to pick up the leftovers - fruit that was edible but not up to commercial standards.

A late freeze and hail made for a poor crop this year, and orchard owner Douglas Reynolds donated what was usable to a local food bank, where fresh produce is a rarity.

"It's a good thing to know I can have these people come in and some good can come from apples that I can't profit by," Reynolds says.

Jim Douglas, director of the Bowie (Texas) Mission, was pleased to distribute the fruit. "Any time that we get apples, it's just like a Christmas present," he says. The mission served as a "go-between the grower or the donator and those that are going to receive it."

From its beginnings 20 years ago in Big Island, Va., in an abandoned sheep shed, the Society of St. Andrew has grown into a national organization that has saved 433 million pounds of food that otherwise would have gone to waste. That food provided 1.3 billion servings to hungry people during the two decades since 1983.

So far this year, the Society has saved about 21.8 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. The produce provided 64 million servings for hungry people.

Four regional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia coordinate projects, including the Gleaning Network.

The Gleaning Network alone has accounted for about 10.4 million pounds of the saved produce this year. The Society of St. Andrew estimates that about 35,000 volunteers from churches, synagogues, Scout troops, senior citizens' groups and other organizations participate in gleaning activities each year. So far this year, the Society has had about 17,500 volunteers participate.

The Society's other food-saving program, the Potato Project, redirects tractor-trailer loads of potatoes - rejected because of slight imperfections - to soup kitchens, Native American reservations, food pantries, low-income housing areas, local churches and other hunger agencies.

Another ministry, Harvest of Hope, is the Society's ecumenical study, worship and mission program, designed to educate youth and adults about the problem of hunger.

Though the Society has collected millions of pounds this year, its total is down 18 percent as of the end of September, says Carol Breitinger, public service director for the organization. She attributes that to harvest shortages due to excessive rainfall. The previous year, harvests were down because of drought.

"We are certainly due for a good year of crops," she says.

"We keep on looking for more new food sources and suppliers - farmers that come on board and allow us to go into their fields," she says. "As that network grows, we are still trying to get as much food as we possibly can."

The Society is an Advance Special of the United Methodist Church. Donors can designate contributions for Advance Special No. 801600 and make checks out to their local church or to "Advance GCFA." Contributions can be left in church collection plates or sent to P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, N.Y. 10087-9068.

The organization operates nearly year round across the United States. More information on the Society of St. Andrew is available from the organization's Web site at http://www.endhunger.org/.

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*Willis is editor for the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn. This story was based on a UMTV report by John Goheen with additional reporting by Tim Tanton at United Methodist News Service.

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