Hunger is the world’s number one health risk. It affects 49 million Americans alone. These are just a couple of the statistics that the Gleaning Club, a new organization on the College of William and Mary’s campus, relayed to potential members in its first meeting Oct. 14.
To combat the problem of hunger locally, the club said it hopes to organize trips to nearby farms to glean, which involves picking leftover produce that the farmer did not decide to harvest. The club will then deliver this food to soup kitchens and food banks so it can be distributed to the less fortunate.
“It’s very, very new, and we’re still kind of forming, but what I really hope is to provide nutritious food to someone who can’t afford it,” founder Laura Stephens ’15 said.
The idea to begin a gleaning club at the College originated with participants in Campus Kitchens Seven Generation’s trip this past summer, in which students made meals and delivered them, worked in a kitchen making the meals, and took a trip to go gleaning on a farm, Nadia Asmal ’15, another of the club’s leaders, said.
“There was a group of six of us that went on the trip for hunger in the community,” Asmal said. “We went out to food banks and gleaning was one of the first things that we did.”
While working together on the trip, Stephens, Asmal, Naziha Niazi ’14 and Derin Dacey ’15 said they used to talk about the possibility of starting their own gleaning club on campus, although they didn’t take the idea seriously at first.
“We joked about it during the trip,” Asmal said. “We used to talk about it every day after our activities.”
However, the group then began to consider starting the club after seeing the results of three hours of their work. In that time frame, 16 students picked enough corn to feed 6,000 people.
“It just made an impression on all of us, that a few hours of work can feed thousands of people,” Stephens said.
Dacey added that although the idea began as a joke, it eventually became a serious one that the group wanted to further pursue.
“We were joking about it, and then we realized it would be a good, sustainable idea,” Dacey said.
In order to start a gleaning club on campus, Stephens said she discussed logistics with the Office of Student Activities, and also talked to the Society of St. Andrew, with whom they worked during the Seven Generations trip.
“They’re the biggest gleaning organization in the country, and they’ve been helping us organize this,” Stephens said.
She added that one of her main goals in starting the club is to play a role in addressing hunger in the community.
“There are thousands and thousands of crops that go ungleaned, and it’s just wasteful,” Stephens said. “Why should a child go hungry when they can eat perfectly good food?”
The club also said one of their main goals is to provide healthy food to those who cannot always afford it. Dacey explained that soup kitchens and food banks have a turnaround time of a few days when — food that is brought in is used relatively quickly, which means patrons can eat fresh products rather than canned food.
“There’s more protein and more nutrients [in the fresh food],” Stephens explained. “A lot of people in poverty don’t have access to healthy food.”
She also emphasized the idea of a vicious cycle — that in eating unhealthy food, people get sick, which then forces them to spend money on necessities like medicine as opposed to healthy food.
“Why should people with less money be forced to eat food that’s going to kill them?” Stephens said.
In their presentation, the club stressed that it is open and looking for new members. They are in need of students who can become certified to drive a van, especially those 19 and older, who have fewer restrictions on the distance from campus they can drive. At the first meeting, the club explained that transportation is critical to ensuring that members can physically travel to various farms around the area to do the gleaning itself.
“It was really easy to start it just because the student activities office is really nice and helpful,” Asmal said. “That was good in that the school makes it incredibly easy to start your own club. But the downside is that being a freshman, it’s hard to get van certified and be able to drive people on the highway.”
The group’s first gleaning project is scheduled for Nov. 4 at College Run Farms near Gloucester, and its second is set for Nov. 5.
“It’s going to be two gleanings in a row, which is going to be a little tough, but based on weather, that will be the best option for us,” Stephens said.
After the first two events, the group said gleaning will be done depending on the weather. The club hopes that gleaning activities will pick up more heavily in the spring.
Asmal added that she is hopeful about what the club can achieve this year and in the future.
“Personally, I hope that if we can accomplish anything, that we can spread the word about gleaning just because it’s such a fantastic opportunity that not that many people know about,” she said. “Even if we don’t get to glean at every opportunity, we want to spread the word so that more people know about it and join the club even next year, so hopefully it will be even bigger and better.”