Dropping the Hammer

Birmingham Magazine (October 20, 2014) – Crop Drops: Society of St. Andrew is dropping the hammer on hunger, one crop at a time

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By June Mathews

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of life in the United States is that in a nation of plenty, hunger persists. Apply that concept close to home, and the news becomes even more troubling.

According to the Alabama Food Bank Association, more than 19 percent of Alabamians are “food insecure,” meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. And the shame of it is hunger usually isn’t due to a lack but rather a waste of food.

U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics tell us that 27 percent of all the food produced in the United States each year is lost at the retail, consumer and food service levels, amounting to 263 million pounds of wasted food per day. Yes, per day, and much of this food is nutritious and edible.

“You could literally fill a football stadium every day with the food that’s wasted in our country,” says Mary Lynn Botts, the Alabama program coordinator for Virginia-based Society of St. Andrew. “That’s a tremendous amount.”

Named for the disciple who brought an unidentified boy’s loaves and fishes to Jesus for distribution to a hungry crowd, SoSA works to reduce waste and make good food available to people in need, usually through shelters and other agencies. Since its founding in 1983, countless volunteers have gleaned millions of pounds of fresh, nutritious produce that would have otherwise been left lying in fields to rot.

SoSA’s Alabama regional office was established in 1992.

“Fruits and vegetables are required to meet a certain standard before they can be purchased by retail outlets,” Bott explained, “so a lot of produce winds up being thrown away. The farmers are more than happy to have this food put to good use; they just don’t have the means to do it. So we make it possible for volunteers to become the hands and feet for feeding the hungry.”

Not only do SoSA volunteers glean fields or pick up culled produce from growers, they glean farmers’ markets, too. In fact, one of the organization’s most productive gleaning operations takes place at Pepper Place Saturday Market. Volunteers deliver oversize collection bags to willing vendors and return to collect the filled bags at day’s end. An average gleaning at Pepper Place yields 500 to 600 pounds of produce, which is picked up and distributed by the Community Food Bank of Alabama.

But probably the most popular of SoSA’s food distribution activities involves “dropping” loads of produce in parking lots or other open areas for volunteers to bag.

A recent green bean drop in Trussville attracted more than 300 volunteers and resulted in 20,000 pounds of produce being bagged for distribution. From January to May this year, 250,000 pounds of apples were dropped and bagged by various groups, and this year’s fall sweet potato crop is looking promising enough for Botts to have already scheduled two drops for those.

Such “crop drops,” as well as SoSA’s other food-capturing activities, says Botts, help distribute vast amounts of food. But planning ahead can be tricky.
“As the farmer is dependent on weather and other conditions so are we,” she says. “But rest assured when a grower tells us he’s got an abundance, we’re going to do everything we can to get it.”

For information on how you or your church or civic group can get involved in the Society of St. Andrew gleaning and food distribution efforts, visit endhunger.org/alabama.htm and fill out the volunteer form. You may also contact Mary Lynn Botts at 205-245-3214 or ALglean@endhunger.org.