During the 2017 season, 150 volunteers dedicated 6,000 hours of service to the Garden Share programs. This was an increase of 40 volunteers and almost 1,500 hours from the previous year when the VISTA was not present. In 2018, 300 volunteers worked with Garden Share through Earth’s Table, events, and gleaning. They dedicated nearly 6,000 hours of their time. Corporate and Community Group participation increased by more than 200 hours and 60 individual volunteers during the second VISTA’s term. In 2019 we saw 189 volunteers that dedicated 315 volunteer hours for the Garden Share Program and participated in volunteer events. A large change in these numbers is due in part to Earth’s Table receiving official status as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit and has been able to do a large portion of their own volunteer tracking.
Outreach and recruitment began with the first VISTA within the organization’s current volunteer base. This was a great way to get the word out about Garden Share programs to an existing base of highly committed volunteers. These volunteers worked through word-of-mouth to encourage family members, friends, and even co-workers to join efforts in providing healthy, nutritious meals. A Garden Share Program Guide and quick-guide brochure were created by the first VISTA to provide information to interested community members who were engaged at tabling events such as at the local farmer’s markets, volunteer fairs, and community events. The second VISTA worked closely with the Director of Communications to create a Grow a Row flyer for the 2018 season and also designed a new Garden Share leaflet. This occurred along with Community Food Share’s rebrand in 2018. All documents have been reworked and updated by the 3rd year VISTA to reflect the correct season and volunteer numbers.
During the off-season, November to April, it is very important to keep volunteers engaged and excited about the opportunities available through the Garden Share programs. This is also a great time to recruit new volunteers. During this time, it is imperative to talk to as many people as possible at volunteer fairs and other community events. The VISTA reaches out to community groups, clubs, and churches to present about Garden Share. Particularly, the second VISTA addressed a high need for flexible, day-time volunteers that are available during normal work hours. One challenge the first VISTA encountered was the eagerness of volunteers to work right away. This is difficult in Colorado because the growing season is so short – most active only from May through September. Alternately, the VISTAs along with the volunteer department have channeled interested volunteers in helping with warehouse produce sorting and connecting them with other activities. Many volunteers upon seeing the whole chain of food flow, between harvesting and distribution, are more willing to become and stay involved.
Once the growing season begins around late-April with seeding events, the engagement with volunteers becomes much easier as opportunities open up. Each time a gleaning or gardening event is scheduled, a notification email is sent to a list of volunteers that are signed up. In January 2018, Community Food Share switched to a new volunteer database which has influenced a great deal of volunteer management and relations during the second VISTA’s term. Details in these emails include: glean date, time, meeting spot, produce to be gleaned, and a list of what to bring and wear. It is important to stay engaged with volunteers during the gleaning and gardening events as well. Engaging in conversations with the volunteers at events helped the VISTAs learn about why people want to be involved. These interactions have also built better relationships with the individuals and gathered ideas for advertising the Garden Share program in various ways.
To show appreciation, an email is sent to volunteers that attended each glean containing numbers of produce rescued and hours dedicated by the volunteers. At the end of the growing season, an email is sent to every volunteer on the gleaning and gardening list to thank them for all their hard work over the growing season. This email also includes the number of volunteers that helped, hours dedicated, and pounds of produce collected. Community Food Share has received recognition from many volunteers about its welcoming atmosphere and staff – citing that they feel their work is appreciated, which it is!