Volunteer Relations with SoSA Georgia
Volunteers represent one side of the triangle. Like most gleaning programs, the SoSA Gleaning Network depends on volunteers willing to give their time. Many people are looking for the opportunity to give back to the community. Additionally, an increasing number of volunteers are people in need, who are working to provide food for themselves and their neighbors. This is particularly true in rural settings, where an aging population may not be able to glean for themselves but lack easy access to fresh produce. Transportation may increase the volunteers’ need to glean due to grocery stores not existing in their community or access to fresh produce being several miles away from their home.
Our work is to connect people with the opportunity to glean. The process of recruiting and scheduling volunteers is very different in an area with a well-established gleaning network than in an area where gleaning is just beginning.
A. Recruiting & Outreach
Speaking Events: Exploit every opportunity to speak to a group. In southern, rural communities churches are a central gathering point for communities. If you are invited to speak at a worship service, ask if you can talk to a combined Adult Sunday School class as well. Even ten minutes in worship service makes a difference if people are unfamiliar with your organization. A five-minute presentation at a District pastors’ meeting might yield three or four speaking engagements at local churches. Network with local pastors to see when this group meets- often, pastors’ groups do not post or maintain online communications. Speak to a variety of groups: Girl/Boy Scouts, Rotary Clubs, United Methodist Men or Women’s Groups, High School Classes, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, university classes, etc.
Volunteers from Agencies: People from subsidized housing projects are often willing to glean and bring the food back to their community. They may need help with transportation, which churches with vans can often provide. Hunger relief agencies can also provide volunteers who will glean on their behalf.
Local Community Outreach Organization: Look in the local community for organizations whose purpose is to connect volunteers with opportunities with gleaning/food recovery. Within your local community there likely are colleges, food banks, shelters, businesses. If there are any colleges or food banks in the area, they usually have some sort of community outreach program with volunteers. Utilizing personal networks can be a great source of friends and family members to get involved.
Media Coverage: Look for every opportunity to get the word out by TV, print media, and social media. Look for special or unique events that the media would be interested in covering (e.g., an especially large gleaning, a cooperative effort by several groups, a “young people doing good” angle). Try to get links and contact information in the article with a request for volunteers. Rural community newspapers are always looking for stories, and the majority of these communities still read the newspaper regularly. Don’t be afraid to reach out to reporters for events.
B. What to Say When Recruiting Volunteers
Anyone Can Glean! As long as a person is able to bend and move, they can glean. Gleaning is a terrific intergenerational activity for churches, schools, and families. Also, make certain that people know that even if they can’t glean, they can still offer financial support. When coordinating a gleaning event you make all the arrangements with the farmer and the agencies. Volunteers just need to “show up” at the field at the designated time and give a few hours labor. They can do this once a month or once a year, as SoSA sees gleaning as a low-commitment opportunity. Groups of as few as three or four people can glean effectively. It doesn’t always take a large group to glean a lot.
C. Maintaining and Communicating with Volunteers
When getting information from gleaning groups or individuals, be sure to get an email address and cell phone number for them. Always collect accurate and complete information from volunteers yearly to keep everything up to date. Electronic methods are the fastest and easiest ways to update groups during the year. Consider using an electronic liability form that gathers this data and also protects your organization.
When planning ahead, alert volunteers to any upcoming events that farmers have informed you of. Send out an email encouraging groups to sign up for a date when their group can glean. If the event is planned at the last minute, pick up the phone and call volunteer groups or take to social media platforms.
Volunteer Thank You: Whenever possible, follow-up with volunteers by email after an event to thank them for their service. Include pictures and let them know how much they gleaned, where the produce was distributed, and the impact they made. Making sure your volunteers feel appreciated and welcomed is what keeps them wanting to participate more and possible get others to join.
Maintain Contact: Ongoing communication is important because it aids in volunteer retention. Be sure to stay in contact with volunteers throughout the year through newsletters, media platforms, and yearly updates.
D. Specialized Volunteers
Some volunteers have special gifts or abilities that they can offer. Try to take advantage of these whenever possible.
Truck Drivers: People who have pickup trucks and/or trailers are needed for hauling produce from the fields. Occasionally, you may find a volunteer with other equipment that might be helpful (e.g., a tractor and trailer).
Field Supervisors: Watch for people with leadership skills who would be good field supervisors. These volunteers need to be particularly dedicated to gleaning and willing to glean about once a month. It is also helpful to identify one person from each group who might be a good field supervisor; then that group will have a “built-in” field supervisor. Field supervisors are in charge on meeting the farm before the gleaning and before gleaning day. This position requires that you ensure every one of safety rules, gleaning procedures, and keeping up with the pounds collected. See “Field Gleaning Checklist” for more information.
Weekday Availability: Although gleaning events are often scheduled on weekends to accommodate working volunteers, gleaning can happen any day of the week. During the summer, youth groups may be available to glean, but during the school year, it is necessary to find people who are available during the week. Many schools (especially private schools) require community service hours. Some schools may even schedule “community service days” when all students a faculty volunteer in the community. Also, retirees and stay-at-home parents as well as home-school groups are potential weekday volunteers.
Ambassadors: Some volunteers are so excited about what SoSA does that they want to tell others. These volunteers should be articulate and personable as they represent the organization by giving talks at churches and other groups.
E. Scheduling Volunteers to Glean
Contact volunteers at the beginning of the season to see when their group would like to glean. This allows you to tentatively line gleaners up for the times when you expect to have crops available for gleaning. You should encourage groups to sign up at a time when you think that the crops closest to them will be available for gleaning. Contact field supervisors to notify them of potential gleanings so they can relay the message and gather volunteers.
When farmers contact you with a short-notice gleaning, contact as many volunteers as you expect to need right away. You may try to contact volunteers who live close to where the field is, or you may contact persons who are willing to go on short notice. If you find a crop and don’t have anyone scheduled, exploit every possibility to find gleaners. You might even try to contact groups that have never gleaned before if they are located near the fields.
F. Appreciation and Data Recording
It is important to record each volunteer and how many hours they contributed to an event or glean. The number of volunteers and their cumulative hours is a great way to measure your organization’s impact in the community. You can use this date to recognize volunteers during appreciation events like dinners and breakfasts on an annual or bi-annual basis. You can also have recognition prizes in your volunteer program to incentivize participation (ex. 25 hours gets a personal name tag, 50 hours gets a t-shirt, 100 hours gets a special recognition such as a gift certificate or article in the local newspaper).