Students Harvest Produce To Feed Hungry

April 03, 2009

By Lilla Marigza*

April 2, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

When James Hargraves got an e-mail from the Society of St. Andrew inviting him to participate in an alternative spring break, he eagerly signed up.

The Old Dominion University student has been participating in the society's events since he was a high school freshman. Hargraves, a United Methodist, was one of two dozen Virginia college students who traveled March 4-18 to Jacksonville, Florida to pick produce to feed the hungry.

Each year in the United States, billions of pounds of fruit and vegetables remain in fields after the harvest. The non-profit Society of St. Andrew coordinates volunteers to pick some of this fresh food surplus and deliver it to families in need. "Honestly, I had no idea so much food was left over," says Katie Thompson, a student at George Mason University.

On this "Harvest of Hope," the crew is picking fresh broccoli, cabbage, and citrus fruits. Students search row after row of green leafy foliage for heads of cabbage... too small to go to market. Two-person crews chop the cabbage off the stalk and throw it onto a blue tarp hauled by another team. The tarp gets heavier and heavier as the pile grows bigger.


It is dirty, hard work under the Florida sun. "It gets a little hot. Sometimes it gets sweaty but you know I'm really enjoying the fact that I get to pick this and ship it off to kids," says Bobby Barnes, a Northern Virginia Community College student.

Barnes has a personal reason for giving up a spring break of relaxation for volunteer work. He wants to help families like his own, "Right now my family is evicted and we are living in a hotel so hopefully when I get back we'll get a house. Thank God that we have shelter and we are able to have food."

Barnes points out that assistance from food pantries is usually in the form of canned goods and items like bread that is close to the expiration date. Fresh produce is a treat.


Some in this group know hunger on a much larger scale. Of the two dozen participants, almost a third are international students from Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Bolivia. Givewell Muyaradzi (at right) is a graduate of United Methodist-related Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. He is currently working on his second master's degree from United Methodist-related Shenandoah University. "The food we waste here is enough to feed the people who are starving in Africa," says Myaradzi.

In addition to the hours in the fields and orchards, students spend time in group discussions about the cause and scale of poverty and hunger in the United States and all over the world. "We learned so many things in a simple and fun way," reports Kidist Grebeamlak, a Northern Virginia Community College student from Ethiopia.


Brittney Drogo (photo at left) of Shenandoah University carries bags of gleaned cabbage. Grebeamlak says she feels a sense of accomplishment in what this small group has done in one week's time. She cannot wait to encourage her classmates to participate in future events, "I plan to write an article in the school newspaper and let them know that just by taking a few days away they can make a huge difference through Harvest of Hope."

That huge difference is apparent in the numbers. In four days, these 22 students harvested 6 tons of broccoli, cabbage, and citrus fruits. That translates into 36,000 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables that will go directly to families. "They say the food we glean today will be on tables by night. Knowing that I have done this, that's what really gets me going," says Carmen Johnson.

Some say their faith brought them here. Others are interested in careers with non-profit agencies like the Society of St. Andrew. However, those like Thompson voice the same concern for others as their main motivation for giving up R&R time for a higher purpose. "I feel that we need to take care of this planet. I feel that we need to take care of our brothers and sisters. If we don't, who will?"

*Marigza is a freelance producer in Nashville, Tenn.