Three days per week, Junior Quinn Grafton wakes up early to dig through piles of fruit in Harps Food Stores, inspecting the fruits and vegetables for imperfections. He, and other members of the Feed Communities Glean Team volunteer group, will help deliver the 286 pounds of produce to local food pantries, churches and community centers.
Grafton, who is majoring in kinesiology, found out about the Glean Team a month ago when he was looking online for community service opportunities on GivePulse, he said.
“I really like seeing the direct impact that the Glean Team has on people,” Grafton said. “Like when you go through the whole process and pick up the food from Harps and deliver the food and see the people it’s going to affect and feed for that day. It’s just really cool.”
Members of the Glean Team pick up produce from two local Harps Food Stores every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that would otherwise go to a landfill, said Nena Evans, the Feed Communities program manager. The Glean Team then gives the produce to those in the Fayetteville community who need it.
Up to 40% of the food in the U.S. is never eaten, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In 2016, Washington County had a 14.3% food insecurity rate, with 31,410 food-insecure people in the county, according to the most recent Feeding America report. One in 6 people struggle with hunger, and 1 in 4 children struggle with hunger in Arkansas.
“It's important to salvage the food that we can and keep it from going into landfills,” Evans said. “Aside from the waste of food not going to people, food breaking down in a landfill in an environment with no oxygen produces a lot of methane.”
In the first stage of decomposition, municipal solid waste, or items that can be thrown away in the household, generate little methane. However, as oxygen rates go down in landfills over the course of about a year, methane-producing bacteria begin to decompose the waste and generate larger amounts of methane, according to research from the Environmental Protection Agency.
On March 25, the Glean Team collected 286 pounds of produce between the Garland and Crossover locations, Evans said. On Mondays, half of the produce donations go to the Head Start program and the other half goes to Genesis Church. All of that slightly misshapen, but completely edible produce, would have been thrown away if it were not for Feed Communities. In the last three months, the Glean Team has gathered 10,000 pounds of produce from the two grocery stores.
After dropping off half of the produce at Head Start program, the delivery van swings by Feed Communities to refill the emergency cooler, Evans said. Intended for people in emergency hunger situations, the outdoor cooler offers 24/7 accessible food with no questions asked. Then, in the afternoon, they take the other half of the food to Genesis Church.
The team delivers produce to the Yvonne Richardson Community Center, Head Start program, Genesis Church, Unity Covenant Church, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and the Growing God’s Kingdom Preschool, Evans said. Feed Communities has a far reach with its gleaned produce, with deliveries extending all the way to West Fork.
Grafton’s favorite location to deliver to is the Yvonne Richardson Community Center where people were lined up at the doors waiting for the food, he said.
“The YRCC offers positive programming for youth and their families. We also have resources such as an open gym and event spaces,” YRCC director Tenisha Gist said.
The YRCC started receiving food from the Glean Team in 2017. The YRCC has an average of 40 people picking up food per month, Gist said. There are a total of four pickups per month supporting an additional 60 people residing within each household, which totals 100 people served.
When the YRCC receives the food deliveries, there is a mass text message to those who have expressed interest in receiving food, Gist said. The YRCC sets out a combination of prepackaged sandwiches, salads, pastries and fresh produce, which the Glean Team collected.
The volunteers go into Harps and collect vegetables like sugar snap peas, whole and chopped onions, tomatoes, bags of salad mix, whole potatoes, baby kale, sliced mushrooms, mini bell peppers, heads of cauliflower and avocados, which are a rare find in the donations to the Glean Team, Evans said. The donated produce includes oranges, grapes, bananas, apples, pineapples, cantaloupes and kiwis.
Evans has been the program manager at Feed Communities for the past year. Evans’ job includes overseeing all of the programs and interns. Founded in 2011, Feed Communities’ goal is to alleviate hunger and increase access to healthy foods by creating sustainable ways to get food such as community gardens and the Glean Team, Evans said.
“I went to the University of the Ozarks and started a campus garden there,” Evans said.
“Basically, it was a way to get fresh produce into the diets of the kids that were not getting consistent or healthy meals at home. Then, I moved to Fayetteville to work on Cobblestone Farm. Cobblestone actually donates 50% of the produce they grow to the Northwest Arkansas community.”
Fayetteville has a large homeless population and a lot of low-income areas, Evans said.
Feed Communities’ newest program is a diabetes prevention program, Evans said. This program targets pre-diabetic individuals and tries to implement healthy lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
Another program through Feed Communities is the community gardens. In 2018, Feed Communities opened a Springdale community garden that serves churches of predominantly Latino and Marshallese people, who are more at risk for food insecurity, Evans said.
Feed Communities is increasing the sustainability of their own building, Evans said. Feed Communities collected 500 gallons of rainwater to use in the gardens in the last few weeks.
Other organizations that work with food insecurity in Northwest Arkansas are Seeds That Feed, Tricycle Farms and the Jane B. Gearhart Full Circle Food Pantry, Evans said.
“Aside from feeding people, you’re helping the environment,” Evans said.