Take advantage of your community’s strengths! Walla Walla and nearby College Place are both towns with strong religious communities. WWCH partnered with two religious institutions – a United Methodist church and the chaplaincy at the Seventh Day Adventist general hospital – to establish fresh produce donation bins at each location. WWCH pitched the idea at a meeting of the Interfaith Coalition on Poverty in late spring and began the pilot program in July. In the future, starting projects in May or June would bring in more fresh produce by capturing the entire growing season’s worth of fruits and vegetables.
Clear the idea with leaders
Committed volunteers who act as liaisons between WWCH and their congregations bring the idea of a donation box to their religious leaders. Make sure volunteers tell leaders about your organization, why the need for fresh produce exists, and where the donated produce will go. Gently remind and check in with your contacts but do not rush this process: churches and synagogues work on their own schedules and in order for an idea to take hold firmly within a congregation, it has to be on their own terms. Act as support for your volunteer contacts: provide them with literature (WW PAR information sheet) for the leaders and an informational insert (WWCH PAR flier for sunday faith communities) that can be placed in a church or synagogue bulletin. Once all details have been ironed out between the volunteers and leaders, move forward in setting up the physical donation boxes.
Provide a sign with clear directions
WWCH used simple black plastic boxes at both the United Methodist church and the Chaplaincy at Walla Walla General Hospital. Create a sign that clearly states the organizations involved (the donation site, the gleaning agency, and the agency that will receive the food). The sign includes simple instruction on how to donate, explains where the produce will end up, and provides contact information for both the Gleaning Coordinator as well as the volunteer contact at each site. Laminate signs to ensure they stay intact and attach them to boxes.
Rely on volunteers
In order to create a sustainable and closed-loop process, give your volunteers responsibility! Give your volunteer contacts specific directions for how to physically donate the produce. In Walla Walla, the BMAC Food Distribution Warehouse is open to accept donations Monday-Thursday from 8am-2pm. Our volunteers took the full produce bins from their congregations to the warehouse on Monday, usually on their lunch break. When the volunteer drops off the produce is up to him or her, but emphasize that the quicker the produce can be dropped off, the better.
Thank each site and your volunteers
At the end of the harvest season, write a thank you note to both the congregations that participated and to your dedicated volunteers. Leave the empty produce bins with the donation sites over the winter so that they have them ready when the first harvest comes the next spring. Bring your volunteers a sign with updated contact information for the next season, if necessary.