It’s about collecting extra shavings, bit by bit, and turning it into something hearty to help those in need.
That’s the mantra behind the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners who recently sent 2018’s second shipment of more than one million meals and various medical supplies to Guatemala.
“There’s always a need, but there’s a critical need right now,” said Brad Egerton, board chair and volunteer with the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners since 2011.
Through a partnership with the Seeds to Harvest Ministry, the Gleaners have been hard at work to supply their iconic dried soup, made of various ingredients depending on what is available and what is donated, to people in need around the active Mount Fuego volcano that erupted in June.
Seeds to Harvest, a ministry based in the area, placed the order with the Gleaners and is in charge of distributing contents of the sea can – the container that carries food abroad – in Guatemala.
“My husband and I have just returned from Guatemala to coordinate the paperwork for this container and are returning Jan. 9 to receive the container and oversee the distribution,” said Eileen Nogue with the ministry.
Nogue and her husband Denis are missionaries under Commission to Every Nation and work in several communities to help the most vulnerable.
“The needs are so great in many areas of Guatemala,” Nogue said. “Guatemala has some of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition amongst children in the world, so the nutrition in the Gleaners’ soup is a huge blessing.”
Egerton said the relationship between the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners and Seeds to Harvest came to life after Nogue called upon them for help.
“We’re really happy to have such a good relationship with a ministry like that. With a small ministry like Seeds to Harvest, they’re passionate and are stewards of the product,” Egerton said. “We love working with them. They’re the example of a ministry that makes our end easy.”
In their Lavington processing plant, the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners are able to produce more than seven million meals per year. Created in 2007, the Society was formed and sought to make use of the Okanagan’s vast food supply to help feed the hungry.
Fresh, frozen and dried vegetables are donated to the Society that then, through volunteer hours, peels, cuts and dries the vegetables for 10 to 15 hours in their two industrial drying rooms before filling large barrels full of their various recipes. The Gleaners then work with reputable and established Christian aid organizations across the globe to distribute the product.
“The dried food is good because we don’t have any waste from it,” Egerton said.
Beyond the soup, the Gleaners also receive donations of medical supplies – an estimated $30,000,000 worth over the past six years – from local hospitals that accompany many of their shipments. A dedicated group of knitters also craft various goods, from scarves and mitts to socks, for donation.
Distribution fluctuates based on orders, but Egerton said the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners are currently working with partners in Guatemala; North Korea, for which they are preparing a shipment of 1.2 million meals to be sent in January; eastern Europe and smaller shipments to other Central American countries.
On the local level, the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners operate a used furniture and appliances store and work with local organizations like North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society, Interior Health Authority, the Vernon Women’s Transition House Society and others.
An Enactus Okanagan College project that sees a social entrepreneurship class drying apples and distributing them to Mission Hill Elementary and the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club also saw its first year. Students in the program volunteered with the Gleaners to dry 1,500 pounds of apples in the pilot program.
Egerton estimated that the Society currently has about 300 volunteers who rotate through the 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday to Friday shifts. However, more volunteers are always welcome and needed, he said.
“They can just show up and we’ll look after them,” Egerton smiled. “A lot of people volunteer for different reasons. The social aspect of this is massive.”
Volunteers can work in various different capacities that involve everything from peeling potatoes to driving trucks full of product. There is no obligation – people can volunteer whenever they are able, Egerton said.
“I don’t know if it’s happy people come to the Gleaners, or if the Gleaners makes happy people,” Egerton said. “(But) 852 meals in a shift of volunteer time, that seems pretty amazing to me.”