By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Society of St. Andrew, also known as part of Mississippi’s gleaning network, is looking for a few good volunteers. The group connects farmers with unsold or unpicked crops to those who need food. It’s a simple concept with a complex structure behind it. Andy Lemmon is the state coordinator for the effort. He manages three groups: farmers who are willing to let volunteers glean their fields or process unwanted raw crops; volunteer groups willing to glean or clean and package food and the groups who prepare or distribute food for those who need it.
Lemmon coordinated the distribution of almost three million pounds of food last year. Much of this food is crops left behind by commercial harvesting equipment. He has coordinators in different parts of the state so he can use help almost anywhere. Lemmon organizes volunteers to go pick those crops — anything from blueberries and tomatoes to turnips and sweet potatoes. He or another coordinator meets the group at 7:45 a.m. Groups usually wrap up and are back on the road by noon. Lemmon said this time frame works to beat the Mississippi heat and it’s a manageable for many of his volunteers, but he is willing to work with groups who may want to work at other times of the evening or afternoon.
Another option is processing food. Lemmon said he received several hundred pounds of blueberries last year. The farmer’s machines picked the berries, but Lemmon had to recruit volunteers to pick out the leaves and sticks and package the berries in containers for distribution. He sometimes gets pallets of sweet potatoes that need to be placed in 10-pound bags. This work can be done at a parish almost any time of day or evening.
If a group has a food pantry or feeding operation, they can often keep some or all of the food they glean. The point, Lemmon said, is to keep the food from being wasted.
Volunteers can also donate money to pay the overhead for the organization. The Society of St. Andrew supplies bags and containers for crops and has a handful of paid staff to coordinate all the work.
The group also makes an effort to help food recipients make the most of the food they get. When the society received 2,000 pumpkins from a farmer last fall, Lemmon knew they couldn’t just hand them out.
“Earlier in the year, we coordinated several hunger relief agencies, churches and schools ahead of time to assist in this ‘Pumpkin Palooza.’ We distributed pumpkins to these agencies and groups all over the greater Jackson area. The plan was for the groups to bake the pumpkins into ready-to-eat treats. St. Andrew’s Episcopal School gave a recipe packet and a pumpkin to each student’s family in the first week of November. The families were asked to bake the pumpkin using one or two of the recipes provided. The turnout was better than expected! We have had to make multiple trips to deliver baked goods from the school to the local Salvation Army,” said Lemmon.
“Families who are struggling with food insecurity typically don’t have the culinary expertise to cook a pumpkin into a healthy, delicious recipe. For those struggling families that do know how to cook pumpkins, they often lack the financial resources to purchase the necessary extras like nutmeg, pecans, etc. Those are expensive additions to any recipe but are commonplace in pumpkin-based baked goods,” he continued.
Lemmon said he welcomes workers who just want a project, but he adds that gleaning has a spiritual aspect. He had his own moment of revelation while harvesting turnips in April. “The most important lesson I “gleaned” happened while we are all seated, near the end of the morning, in a small circle. As I sat there, it hit me like a tidal wave. We were all finished gathering and were now sorting the turnip roots gleaned. I saw the relationships forming and witnessed the heart of Christ. We were gathered, in the name of Christ, for the purpose of preventing food waste and preventing hunger for the needy in our communities. Matthew 18:20 was ringing in my ears like church bells. ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.’ I stepped back and listened and watched as this small group of volunteers and the farmer’s family bonded over their common purpose. We were able to rescue nearly 450 pounds of turnip roots during this event. That comes out to be a little more than 1,300 servings of food for just a few hours work with a handful of volunteers. Imagine if we had more volunteers?” asked Lemmon.
Lemmon keeps a schedule of weeks when groups can glean, but also needs people who can be available to help with an unexpected donation. Any parish interested in scheduling a service project or learning more about partnering with the Society of St. Andrew can contact Lemmon at (769) 233-0887 or my email, GleanMS@EndHunger.org or check out the group’s website, www.endhunger.org.