The Times, They Are A-changin’08 Apr 2020, by Good Cheer Food Bank in
Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.
“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’”
Bob Dylan said it back in 1963, but it’s as true now as it was then. The times are changing, have changed, and will keep changing, and no one knows for how long or just how utterly different the world will be on the other side.
If we think about it too much, it’s terrifying. It’s easy to lose sight of our own resilience in the face of stay-home orders, a deadly virus spreading out of control, millions of people losing jobs, security, and even their lives right now.
As a VISTA about to end my service year, this was supposed to be an exciting time – moving on to the next phase, going happily forward into the next chapter. It’s still exciting, but in more of a horror movie ‘don’t open that door’ kinda way. All the things I had planned are now on hold or canceled, and the future is uncertain at best.
One amazing thing that came from my service as a VISTA is that I found a place to call home – Whidbey Island. Even in the face of all this turmoil and uncertainty, I have a place to live, good friends around me, and a community that has shown enormous love and support for both its members and the organizations working to keep people fed and safe during this scary time.
What does this have to do with gleaning, and the Good Cheer gleaning program in particular? It’s clear that we’ll need donations of produce and tree fruit more than ever this spring and summer as we work to keep people from going hungry. The Food Bank has seen a steady increase in the number of new clients over the last month, and there’s no doubt that the need will only increase as we all struggle to find our way through this strange new world.
Every season since 2011, the Good Cheer Gleaners have visited the local farmer’s market on Saturdays to pick up produce donated by local farmers. Right now, the future of the market (at least for this season) is uncertain. It may or may not open, and some farmers have already made the decision to forgo the market and make other plans. As the gleaning coordinator ( I’m staying on as the volunteer gleaning coordinator after my service term is over) I’m working with the local farmers to find other ways for the gleaning crew to safely pick up whatever produce they are willing or able to donate.
As far as tree fruit gleaning goes, it’s predicted to be a big apple year, and as long as there are volunteers willing to come out and pick and tree donors willing to allow us to come harvest their extra fruit, we will keep on gleaning. The nice thing about fruit trees is that they’re outdoors, with lots of room for social distancing while picking. We’ll be looking at our gleaning procedures and adding new safety measures as needed to keep everyone safe and healthy.
My wish, for myself and for everyone, is that we come out of this with a greater sense of resilience, as a community and as individuals connected by that community. Not just that we survive this, but that we use this to look hard at our current systems and how they need to change and then make that change happen.