The consulting firm, Value Chain International, recently reported that in Canada $31 Billion worth of food is wasted annually. In view of this, I’m impressed with what Okanagan Gleaners Society of Oliver is doing. The Gleaners have developed an ingenious but simple formula using unwanted food to feed hungry people around the globe.
In a 2 hour tour of the Gleaners plant, Society president Lex Haagen told Linda and me, “We’re almost 100 percent volunteer and donor driven. Except for the General Manager, we’re all volunteers.” Lex appreciates the help being given by people in the Similkameen Valley. He hopes many more will catch the vision and pitch in.
A former City of Abbotsford Fire Chief, Lex is lean and fit. He has certainly caught the vision. His enthusiasm and commitment are palpable. Observing the approximately 20 volunteers at work, we sensed an aura of determination and contentment. Intent on their assignments, they seemed largely oblivious to our presence.
We learned the Gleaners depend on donations of beans, egg
plant, onions, carrots, brussel sprouts , peas, potatoes, etc. They also welcome apples. The produce is chopped up, dried and stored in barrels. The apple chips are a treat particularly prized by children.
“By next April we’ll have about 900 full barrels,” Lex explained. “We will use an assembly line of people to scoop a measured amount of mix into a moving bucket. This will be transferred into plastic bags. Each bag will contain 15 to 20 ingredients and provide 100 servings of soup mix. Recipients will add their local spices. The apple chips are bagged
Lex introduced us to Jack Woods, formerly in the trucking business. Now 81, he said, “I’ve been coming since 2003. Two weeks in spring and two in fall.” His face suggests strength of character, his voice exudes passion.
Sharon McClennan saw hungry children when she volunteered in the Philippines. She asked, “where else can I go to help produce 21,000 meals per day for people who are starving?”
As we passed the noisy dehydrators, we needed to listen carefully as
Lex continued. “The funds to run and maintain the equipment come almost entirely from individual donors. The vegetables and apples are supplied by farmers and others. If the quantity is fairly large, we will pick up. We also use frozen product, provided by Lucerne Foods in Abbotsford. Cobs in Penticton and Tim Horton’s in Oliver donate (day old) treats for coffee time.”
The soup mixes and apple chips are distributed through established, reputable organizations such as World Vision, Mennonite Central Committee, Missions Without Borders and several others. Hungry people in over 40 countries on 5 continents have received the mixes.
At least 8 Gleaners societies currently operate in Canada. “We make good use of food that would otherwise be wasted,” Lex told us. “Each year our plant produces at least 5 million servings. To accomplish this we depend on donations of produce and money. We also need people with specific skills such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, mechanics, and accounting.”
A note from an appreciative African aid worker describes the Gleaners impact in one village. “After the people here had been eating the soup mix for a month, we noticed they were more alert and had energy to work.”
Toward the end of our tour, Lex observed, “it’s easy to write a cheque, but there is a deep satisfaction that comes from hands on experience. Volunteers know they are personally providing nutritious food to hungry people.”
Okanagan Gleaners began operations in 1996, the vision of a small group of Christians concerned about food being wasted while others starved. “We welcome anyone who wants to help,” Lex said. “We never turn anyone away.”
Volunteers arrive from all parts of B.C. and the prairie provinces, even Ontario. Twelve serviced RV sites are available, plus tenting in the orchard. Registration is important from April to October. “In summer we get quite a few families,” Lex said. “It’s a good way for children to learn about giving to those who have little.” According to the Gleaners website, “if you can clean and chop, you can help.” They work from 8:30 to noon.
Anyone wanting more information can call 250-498-8859 or go to www.okanagangleaners.com