Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.
Often times during a VISTA’s term, the capacity-building tasks can often seem like the boring ones. Crunching numbers, raising funds, logistics, and so on are critical to maintaining and creating programs but also far from entertaining. For SoSA Florida, some of this drudgery comes from produce drops.
A ‘drop’ is when a grower donates produce by the truck or pallet load, rather than a row in a field. Typically this product has already been harvested, and the task at hand is to facilitate transportation and placement. Bleh. However, powering through these doldrums can earn the highest reward.
HAH VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site, the Society of Saint Andrew, have coordinated several of these drops, each providing tons of produce and rewards. The Neena Eisenberg Potato Drop, for example, brought in over 10 thousand pounds of produce but also honored the memory of an ardent supporter and volunteer. In the wake of devastating hurricanes, traditional gleaning became obsolete. In response, SoSA Florida helped move 120 thousand pounds of produce to communities impacted by Florence. Forty-four thousand pounds of bottled water made it to the Panhandle in the wake of Michael, with another drop on the radar. It is in times of crisis and joy that one must dig in her heels in and push. Working through seemingly humdrum tasks allowed Elise and her site to not only innovate, but expand their services for those who need it most.