A crew of Senior Gleaners working the coast including the Cayetano pick in Mission Beach. / Photo by Daryush Bastani
Calling all active seniors in need of productivity and vegetable farmers and homeowners with backyards filled with fruit trees. San Diego’s Senior Gleaners are ready, super excited and able to glean surplus produce in an effort to feed the hungry.
Celebrating 25 years as a nonprofit organization, this dedicated group of volunteers collects food that would otherwise be wasted. Members glean surplus produce from farms, fields, groves, and backyards. The group also collects damaged or outdated foods and products donated by grocers, food services, and even restaurants throughout San Diego County.
Picking occurs almost every Tuesday morning, year-round. Grocery crews are scheduled four mornings a week to grocery stores the include Windmill Farms, Vons, Ralphs, Keils, even Outback Steakhouse. Crew sizes and detailed surplus varies. The coastal communities of La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and Point Loma are abundant with produce.
“With all of the negativity in today's world, gleaning, a tradition established by landowners who set aside portions of their harvested bounty to feed the poor, is positive and productive,” said Monte Turner, Senior Gleaner board president. “We help to feed the hungry, reduce waste and keep retirees active.”
According to Turner, the Senior Gleaners collected more than 280,000 pounds of produce and distributed nearly 252 tons of food in 2018. And yet, San Diego continues to waste 500,000 tons of food annually while 500, 000 people live in poverty or are considered food insecure.
“While not starving, many San Diegans don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” he said. “We don’t have a hunger problem, we have a food distribution problem. Rather than compost edible food or fill landfills with what becomes harmful methane gas, it makes more sense to support groups like ours who get food to the people who need it.”
Turner spoke of the emotional satisfaction that he gets from gleaning.
“I love being outside with friends picking fruit appreciated by people who frequent food pantries,” he said. “People often receive canned goods and unsold grocery food items but rarely fresh fruit. And San Diego is fruit country (oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruits, avocados apples, and pears are among the County’s produce surplus).
“We often pass trees loaded with fruit and within a few weeks, the fruit is unsightly, rotting on the ground, attracting insects and feeding rats,” he continued. “To date, we’ve collected less than 10 percent of what’s available, leaving huge untapped resources.”
Turner noted that it’s now standard practice for nationwide grocery chain stores to connect with groups like the Senior Gleaners to ensure that edible food is feeding the hungry, not landfills.
“Food organizations like ours are being tapped into after a recently enacted state law that requires cities and counties to reduce the amount of organic, soon to be toxic material, to be dumped into landfills,” he said.
Senior Gleaners supply small distribution groups – those not served by large food banks – which includes churches, senior centers, low-income housing units and food pantries.
Volunteers are needed for gleaning and transporting at least 300 pounds of produce to Heaven's Windows, a satellite facility of the San Diego Food Bank and Feeding America. There is no minimum time requirement, however all volunteers must be 55 or older.
Donors receive detailed receipts to claim tax deductions. The federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects donors from liability for “damages incurred as the result of illness,” as long as the donor has not “acted with negligence or intentional misconduct.”
The Senior Gleaners of San Diego County is a certified non-profit organization affiliated with the San Diego County Office of Aging and Independent Services/ Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a nationwide program that encourages seniors to serve their community. For more information, visit seniorgleanerssdco.org.