KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For 30 years, the Society of St. Andrew has been fighting hunger through the cooperation of this country’s fresh produce growers.

Society scours fields to fight hunger

Bob Luder

A group of young volunteers fill sacks of potatoes gleaned by volunteers for the Society of St. Andrews and donated to the Kansas City Harvesters Food Pantry.

Growers harvest their fields, and instead of then going in and plowing all unpicked product under, volunteers from SoSA walk in, pick up the leftovers, and donate that product to local or regional food banks or other charitable organizations. It’s what the organization refers to as gleaning.

It’s something Lisa Ousley, director of SoSA’s western headquarters, thinks simply makes sense.

“It’s a common-sense solution to a complex problem,” Ousley said. “Almost 36 million every year have a hunger problem. Why? It’s not that we don’t have the food. It’s a distribution problem.”

SoSA, a faith-based program started by two Methodist ministers, has base offices in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Kansas City is the western headquarters and services the Mississippi River to the East Coast, though SoSA has moved food to all 48 contiguous U.S. states.

The SoSA western office opened May 15, 2008, in the building that houses the Harvesters Community Food Network, a few miles east of downtown Kansas City.

Ousley said SoSA has two programs — one that works with bulk loads and one that works more locally with smaller loads.

“We moved eight truckloads, at 42,000 to 45,000 pounds each, of potatoes one week (in early August),” she said. “We’re picking up produce at the central Missouri produce auction in Jamesport. Last week, in Rich Hill, we picked almost 7,000 pounds of sweet corn, cantaloupe and watermelon.”

Ousley said SoSA West has gleaners ranging from Manhattan, Kan., to near Denver, Omaha, Neb., and many in more remote locations throughout Missouri and Kansas. She said the organization works with 30,000 to 40,000 volunteers every year.

SoSA West works with a variety of community organizations, ranging from the Flint Hills Bread Basket in central Kansas to various Boy Scout troops and church groups.

“It just speaks to good stewardship,” Ousley said. “People around here are excited about this. Most of these people have generous hearts and love to give back to the community.”

In addition to gleaning farm fields, Ousley said SoSA also works closely with produce packing companies, picking up product that didn’t make grade for that particular packinghouse.

“Like a farmer once said, we don’t grow this stuff to plow it under,” said Bernie Schneider, program coordinator, who works with Ousley in their small office.

As a nonprofit, SoSA is always looking for help with funding.

“The first five years, we operate from grants,” Ousley said. “But we’re reaching out to churches and other organizations for support.

“What we spend most of our money on is packaging and freight. Almost 93% of all funds raised go toward feeding people.

“Food banks are reporting a 40% to 50% increase in numbers of people from a year ago. This situation’s dire, and we’re trying to meet the need.”