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The Gleaners keeps food moving
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By Fabvienen Taylor
      JACKSON — Fran Smith of Clinton had heard about The Gleaners in Sunday School class at her Baptist church.
      So a couple of years ago when a box of onions was left over from her son’s food booth at the Mississippi State Fair, she thought about The Gleaners.
“I brought the onions in and while I was there they showed me around and talked about what the volunteers do,” said Smith.
      Smith was invited to volunteer. “They told me to try it, to see if I like it.”
      She did, and now every Wednesday morning Smith and friend Phyllis Henson can be found unpacking, weighing, packaging and filling baskets with food.
      “The way people from different churches come together and do the work here at The Gleaners for a common cause is really good,” said Smith. “It takes everyone working together to make it work.”
      Smith and Henson, who started volunteering a year ago, are two of about 60 volunteers at The Gleaners, a non-profit organization that collects food — from restaurants, hospitals, churches, grocery stores, the farmer’s market, and other businesses — that would otherwise be discarded and distributes it to shelters and charities.
      The Gleaners, with an operating budget of $70,000 a year, relies solely on donations — food and money. There are no paid staff members.
      It has supported area charities and shelters since 1986, when it was established by Gloria Martinson, a St. Richard parishioner, who directed it for many years.
      Over the years the number of organizations donating food has grown as well as the charities and shelters in need of food.
      “We have some good volunteers but we always need more,” said Nancy Willis, operations coordinator. She started volunteering 17 and half years ago. “We have people of all different faiths working together.”
      Five days a week volunteers pick up the food in The Gleaners’ trucks, unpack it, sort it, weigh it, label and date it, store it in the freezers and a cooler, and then fill baskets with the food for their clients.
      Some persons living in the shelters served by Gleaners also come in to volunteer.
      “That’s our highest priority need right now, getting more faithful volunteers,” said Dr. Alton Cobb, chairman of the board of The Gleaners. “We can always use more help.”
      Organizations donating food, both raw and processed, range from St. Dominic’s Hospital to Frito-Lay to Kroger to Starbucks to various churches and some individuals.
      Charities and shelters pick up their food on specific days at The Gleaners. They are abuse shelters, transitional facilities for those recovering from addictions, and personal care homes for the elderly.
      T’s Personal Care Home in Northwest Jackson picks up food on Friday for its 11 clients.
      “The food we get depends on what they have in. Sometimes it’s cooked and sometimes it’s not. We go through it and use what we can. And if there is extra bread or something, Nancy will give it to us. I really appreciate Gleaners. It’s a good thing. Nancy is a sweetheart.”
      The Friendship Connection, a transitional facility for women recovering from alcohol and drug addictions, collects food once a week.
Linda Seales, who picks up the food, said most days about 26-30 women are in the facility.
      “We serve three meals a day so this really helps with our grocery bills. We get eggs, bread, vegetables, meat. Gleaners so gracefully gives this to us and we definitely need it and appreciate it,” said Seales.
      Willis said Gleaners gives away what comes in. “We never know how much food is going to come in. Some days we are bombarded with food and have to call people to come and get it. Everything picked up today goes out tomorrow. We don’t keep it.”
      Weighing the food as it comes in and as it goes out tells Gleaners how much food is distributed monthly and later, yearly.
      “In the last five years our food collection has more than doubled from 250,000 pounds,” said Dr. Cobb. As of the end of June, 408,118 pounds had been collected and distributed.
      At $1.50 pound, the value Kroger the food it donates, Dr. Cobb said by the end of the year The Gleaners will have distributed $1.2 million dollars worth of food.
      With its growing demands, Gleaners has outgrown its current building.
Donations from major foundations, including a $400,000 grant from the Vanguard Charitable Trust, has enabled The Gleaners to plan to move into a new building, double its current space, in the spring of 2009.


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