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The Arkansas Gleaning Project: Touching Lives in Unexpected Ways by Claudi Gfroerer

Claudia-blog-photo-1After spending months travelling around with the SNAP outreach team, I started helping with the Arkansas Gleaning Project, another program of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. The Gleaning Project helps the food banks get fresh fruits and vegetables that they would normally not have access to because of cost. Many farmers have leftovers after they have harvested their contracted amount, and the price they could get to do a second harvest isn’t worth it. Without the Gleaning Project, most of this after-market produce would just go to waste. With the Gleaning Project, farmers in various regions of the state have the opportunity to contact the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and donate what’s left after their harvests to their local food bank.

The Gleaning Team is contacted by the farm owner and dispatches a truck from the local food bank to pick up the produce. Then, someone has to actually pick the corn, berries, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage or whatever else. Sometimes volunteer groups or people from different organizations come in to help harvest the produce, but most of the time the gleaning team is working with inmates from different prisons.

I remember the first day in the field with Brandon Chapman, food sourcing & logistics programs coordinator. A co-worker had warned me ahead of time to wear appropriate clothes and make sure to cover myself—which I did— but I couldn’t quite get rid of the weird feeling in my gut. I was about to meet male inmates and correction officers. I have never even known a person who has been in prison. When I was on the road with the SNAP team, I talked to several people who had to spend some time behind bars, but for some reason that seemed so different to me, however, very quickly I started to understand the relationship between all participants.

The Gleaning Project doesn’t just help to get more produce for the food banks. It also helps inmates restore their lost trust in society. I had some very interesting conversations that helped me understand, why this project is so important. Many inmates lose their hope and strength in prison. There is not much to do, and they feel stuck because it is obvious to them that there is nothing they can do to free themselves out of this situation. By doing hard work in the field, they get to prove to the guards that they are willing to change and willing to fight for another chance in life. The more time we got to spend together and the more often we talked, the more interest they also showed in our lives and they wanted to know what exactly it is we’re doing. We explained to them what the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance does and what our work usually looks like and they also wanted to know what we’ll do with all this corn. When they found out it would go to the local food bank, and be distributed to people in need through pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters, you could see the surprise in their faces. Knowing that what they did really was important and appreciated gave them a motivation to continue their hard work over the next days and made them feel important to our society again.

The Gleaning Project is probably one of the greatest things I’ve experienced in my time at the Alliance, because I can see how purely good it is on every level. Farmers donate what’s left after their harvest, inmates get new motivation, and in the end, families in need have food on their tables. It was a beautiful experience for me to be part of this, and I just want to encourage everyone to do what they can to support projects like this that help our society grow and flourish.

Reflections from A World Away: Jericho Way

Claudia-blog-photo-1Jericho Way is a refuge for many people. There is no age limit or any other restriction that could keep someone from getting a warm meal or finding help. The Day Resource Center is run by a nun, Sister Elizabeth Greim and has been in service for over a year. Besides bible discussion groups, breakfast and lunch, people in need can find assistance and help for any kind of official document or benefit application. There is also a possibility to take showers, make phone calls, find community and play games or watch movies. A Social Worker from Jericho said: “Of course it’s sad to see people coming back, because that means nothing has changed, but it shows us that they like coming here and they found more than just shelter in our community.” Between 75 and 100 women and men of all ages and backgrounds visit the safe haven daily. The variety of different personalities you can meet there is very noticeable and interesting.

 

My first encounter was with a 43 year old man. He got released from jail one week ago, where he had to spend 2 weeks, because he didn’t show up at court for a trial. In 2012 he got caught driving a car without license, but there was such a long time in between the felony and the process, that he forgot all about it and they came to take him in. All of this happened without notice, so he was not able to inform his boss, who he built therapeutic spas for, or anybody else. Without knowing where he was or what was going on, they could not hold the job for him, which brought him to his current situation. Applying for food stamps gives him hope to be able to manage everything for the next few weeks, but he’s certain he will find new work.

 

Born in 1975, the next man I met already went through a variety of experiences in his life. I felt honored that he would go through this conversation with me, when I found out he is schizophrenic. That’s also the reason why he lives in the woods, because he tries to stay away from crowded places and enjoys being isolated. For 22 years, he owned a painting business, until he got divorced and decided to move back to the country side and live on a farm. With his ex-wife he has three children (14, 21, 22 years). Two of them go to college in Fayetteville and the youngest son lives with her in Rushville, where they’re being supported by his mother. When things didn’t work out as planned, he realized that he needed help, which couldn’t be provided for him in Rushville, so he decided to come back to Little Rock. Here, he’s slowly established a new life for himself and tries to get back on his feet. Campus Community is a big help, where he can help building churches and painting houses. After spending 4 years in prison (2008 – 2013), it’s also not the easiest to find a new job, especially now that he had a liver failure. Food stamps helped him a lot before, but a while ago someone stole his phone and all his belongings, including his EBT card and his ID. After everything that happened, he still didn’t give up hope and tries his best to get back on his feet.

 

My last encounter shows the diversity of the people you can meet at Jericho House. A 19 year-old girl who is waiting in Little Rock to be picked up by her parents. She originally comes from Searcy and came here for rehabilitation. In her young age, she already struggled with severe substance abuse, especially with methamphetamines. After finishing the rehab program, she found shelter in Abba House. The only reason why she’s still here is because she’s waiting for someone to pick her up again. The battery of her phone died and she couldn’t reach anyone at home and without any income or cash, she ended up staying on the streets.

 

HandsPeople in harder times may not always have the same background or story, but at Jericho Way, you can see how all of that doesn’t matter. The community they created there gives them a safe place, where people don’t judge, but understand each other. Everyone finds something of their heart’s desire there and most of all, they find support, which is very important and probably most absent. For some people it seems to be just a short phase they have to go through and hopefully gain strength and appreciation for life through it. For those whose struggle doesn’t seem to end anytime soon, a place like this, provides more than just a roof and a meal and I’m very glad to see the outcome of their hard work and dedication.

Latest News Reports

Map the Meal Gap 2016: Executive Summary
Feeding America, April 2016

Did you know?

In 2014, our six Feeding  America  food bank members along with Project Hope distributed 44,032,106 pounds of food to programs and agencies that directly feed Arkansans in need. This is the equivalent of 36,693,421 meals.

Did you know?

More than 1 in 4 Arkansas kids do not get enough to eat.

Did you know?

Text FOOD to 877 877 to find free summer meals sites for kids

Did you know?

Arkansas ranks #1 in senior hunger.

Did you know?

Many elderly Arkansans must choose between buying food or medication.

Did you know?

Almost 500,000 Arkansas residents (1 in 6) receive federal food assistance.

Did you know?

Poverty is the main cause of hunger.

Did you know?

More than 40% of Arkansas people on SNAP are in working families.

WHAT WE DO

The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, through our member food banks, hunger relief agencies, volunteers and corporate partners, is committed to providing programs, food resources, education and advocacy to reduce hunger in Arkansas. Your interest and generosity will help us succeed.

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Find out about upcoming Alliance fundraising events as well as gleaning opportunities, Cooking Matters classes and grocery tours as well as other special events.

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