How the big move impacted volunteer marketing for Boston Area Gleaners: online, in-person, and community outreach

29 Jul 2021, by Admin in Boston Area Gleaners

Harvest VISTA Meredith Days serves as the Outreach and Communications Assistant at Boston Area Gleaners, located in Acton, Massachusetts. Boston Area Gleaners is a food recovery organization dedicated to harvesting surplus farm crops, preventing waste, and nourishing local families in Eastern Massachusetts. Boston Area Gleaners partners with farmers across the state and mobilizes teams of volunteers to harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of surplus crops each year, which are distributed to over 2,000 hunger relief agencies in New England.

For the past few years, Boston Area Gleaners’ operations have expanded dramatically. In 2019, the organization moved over 1 million pounds of food. With the onset of the Covid-19
pandemic in 2020, the Gleaners’ distribution expanded to over 8 million pounds of food. For 2021, Boston Area Gleaners is on track to move even more than in 2020, in particular with the expansion of programs like the Boston Food Hub, and upcoming purchase of Stonefield Farm.

With all this expansion, Meredith has worked with the Outreach Coordinator, former Harvest VISTA Paul Franceschi, to increase the volunteer efforts. Boston Area Gleaners is a community-supported nonprofit, which means that without their volunteers, the work would be impossible to accomplish. Each week, the Gleaners have a rotating schedule of volunteer trips for a variety of tasks, from weeding to packing food boxes to gleaning trips.

However, when they moved out to Stonefield Farm, about 25 minutes away from their former site at Waltham Community Fields, some volunteers no longer continued to follow their regular schedule. The Gleaners rely on regular volunteering— and while they didn’t lose all of their volunteers, there was definitely a noticeable shift. So along with Outreach Coordinator Paul, for the past few weeks Meredith has been working on engaging the local Acton community for an event she is managing on July 31st.

This event is tailored to new volunteers, and seeks to engage the local community around Acton. Meredith has done extensive outreach to local churches, sustainability groups, libraries and schools in the area to garner interest. However, in the summer, many contacts for schools and churches are on break, so there was slightly less success with the original online campaign than Paul and Meredith had hoped for.

Luckily, Acton is a tight-knit community, and with a little research Meredith found that the Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market hosts a community table each week. She spent the week
leading up to the market updating the outreach materials that Boston Area Gleaners already had – in particular focusing on a foldable, reusable Velcro poster board, updating the laminated pieces, and curating QR codes for the laminated flyers to use on the table. Massachusetts has been getting the most rain ever recorded this July, so she wanted to be sure that none of the pieces would get destroyed in the likely event of rain at this all-weather market. The intent of going to the community table was to raise awareness about Boston Area Gleaners given the imminent purchase of Stonefield Farm on July 30th, as well as to reach more Acton-based volunteers to boost volunteer engagement.

Despite a forecast of heavy rain for the day of the market on July 18th, the Gleaners’ booth was popular at the Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market. After the success of the passage of the Agricultural Preservation Restriction at Acton Town Meeting in late June, many folks in Acton already know the name Boston Area Gleaners, which made it easy to chat with people at the
market. Over 20 people enthusiastically signed up to join the volunteer list, which alerts registered volunteers weekly of gleans and packs. The Gleaners also sent follow up emails to
folks who signed up at the farmers market (as well as newly registered volunteers in July who hadn’t yet attended a volunteer trip) to encourage them to register for the July 31st volunteer event, which is specifically tailored to new volunteers. As of July 28th, the event has 21 registrations, which exceeds the Outreach team’s initial goal of 15 new volunteers in attendance!

Says Harvest VISTA Meredith: “It is so satisfying to be able to connect directly with new volunteers and be able to get them excited about an event that the Outreach team has been working on for weeks. The outcome has already exceeded my personal goals and the organization’s expectations which was such a great outcome for the first larger event that I helped lead. I am so excited to continue this outreach work— there are always more volunteers to engage with— and I can’t wait.”