- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

The Rev. Ken Horne understands the old adage “waste not, want not.” As executive director of the Society of St. Andrew in Big Island, Va., he is responsible for the coordination of about 40 million pounds of salvaged food each year.

The nonprofit organization gathers surplus goods from farmers’ fields or warehouses and delivers them to places such as food banks, soup kitchens, churches, American Indian reservations and the Salvation Army.

The anti-hunger group Bread for the World says 36 million people in the United States don’t have enough to eat.

“It’s nuts to throw stuff away,” Mr. Horne said. “In America, we are so rich that we can afford to turn down perfectly good produce because we don’t like the way it looks or it’s the wrong size.”

Gleaning, or retrieving extra food to give to the poor, has been practiced since biblical days, he said, citing Leviticus 19:9-10, which commanded the Israelites: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.”

In vineyards and olive groves, the grapes and olives that fell to the ground were to be left for the poor.

“The welfare system, as it is right now, is not adequate for people’s needs,” Mr. Horne said. “A lot of elderly people, in the last week of the month, have to decide if they should buy pills or food. So many single moms have to decide to either keep the heat turned on or buy food. We at least try to augment what they’ve got to eat.”

Gleaning is highlighted in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, returned to Bethlehem as poor widows. The barley harvest was beginning, and Ruth gleaned the fields to provide food for herself and Naomi. It was there where Ruth met Boaz, who became her husband. One of the couple’s descendants was King David.

“Our motivation to feed the hungry is because that’s what Jesus teaches in the Gospels,” Mr. Horne said. “We want to do what he tells us to do and treat people the way he instructs us to treat people.”

Ruth may have gleaned barley, but the majority of what Mr. Horne delivers is potatoes.

On June 7, National Hunger Awareness Day, about 20 tons of potatoes will be dumped in the streets near Capitol Hill as part of a “potato drop.” On the night before the event, about 40 of the nation’s top religious leaders will meet at the National Cathedral in Northwest for an interfaith convocation.

“We’ll get volunteers, including senators, congressmen and dignitaries, to unload the truck and distribute the potatoes to smaller agencies in town,” Mr. Horne said. “They will be in somebody’s supper that night.”

The potato drop will take place with the assistance of many of the District’s anti-hunger groups, including Bread for the World, America’s Second Harvest, Call to Renewal and the Alliance to End Hunger.

“It’s a scandal in a nation that’s as richly blessed as ours that we put up with widespread hunger,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “None of the other industrialized countries still have widespread hunger within their borders. It’s a fixable problem.”

In conjunction with the potato drop, Mr. Beckmann plans to take about 800 people to Capitol Hill on June 7 to lobby for the Hunger Free Communities Act, which urges Congress to continue federal food-assistance programs and implement grants to community groups that assist hungry people.

Because the Society of St. Andrew has part-time gleaning coordinators in 20 states, its workers distribute food on a regular basis to places such as the South Plains Food Bank in Lubbock, Texas, which also has its own volunteers who glean local fields. In addition, the food bank has a farm and an orchard where it grows produce.

Although gleaning from the fields is still a viable way of collecting surplus, today extra goods can be gathered from warehouses, manufacturers, retail stores, packaging houses, restaurants and caterers, said Jim Mangis, chief executive officer of Food Share, Ventura County’s regional food bank in Oxnard, Calif.

The group is one of the 200 participants across the country that is part of America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network.

Food Share, a nonprofit organization, was created 26 years ago when local churches put the commands of Leviticus 19 into practice, he said. Only one-tenth of the 10 million pounds of food the association gathers each year is from the fields.

“We glean wherever there is good food that might go to waste,” Mr. Mangis said. “Some people can’t afford gas, rent and groceries. Where people cut back is on food and that makes them sick. If they can get assistance with the food, it means they are better able to buy food to keep them healthy and take care of their teeth, among other things.”

If the Arizona Statewide Gleaning Project didn’t distribute the 76 million pounds of food it recovered last year, the produce might have been dumped in landfills, said Norm Gold, the nonprofit organization’s director of gleaning operations, located in Phoenix.

The 11-year-old program is run through the Association of Arizona Food Banks, receiving partial sponsorship through the government. Mr. Gold said he hopes that the group’s work is an inspiration to people in other areas of the country without gleaning plans.

“Arizona is a produce abundant state from November to April,” Mr. Gold said. “We share with other states during that time to help them out as well. When it’s hot, nothing grows here. During our dry season, other states share with us.”

A lot of food still is going to waste because there aren’t enough organizations to distribute it, said Ernie Brown, vice president of operations of Senior Gleaners in Sacramento, Calif. The nonprofit, volunteer group collects about 25 millions pounds of food per year.

“The U.S. produces plenty of food to feed its people,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s a matter of getting the food to the people who need it.”

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