On Wednesday, Warsaw United Methodist Church welcomed over 50 bright and energetic youth to a wholesome lunch in thanking them for the hard work they had done.
The tireless young group—which includes participants from Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and even Michigan—had come together once more after sorting items at the Northern Neck Food Bank, washing cars at Westmoreland County Social Services and gleaning over 10,000 pounds of corn in a local field.
It was through Harvest of Hope that these upstanding young men and women strived to make a difference in the lives of people on the Northern Neck.
Harvest of Hope, a program for the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA), tackles the issue of wasted food in the United States by having participants glean crops each morning that they then donate to local food banks and soup kitchens.
Bill Leach, Director of Harvest of Hope, noted the surprising amount of completely nutritious essentials that go uneaten annually.
“In the United States, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food a year, more than enough to feed every hungry person,” said Bill. “If we help each other and spend a little time doing so, there’s more than enough to go around.”
Whiling having with lunch with her peers at Warsaw United Methodist, Caitlyn Leach, a rising high school senior from Lynchburg, said she was going to be “much more cautious about what I eat when I get home” while also stressing the need to not waste any food.
One of her peers at her table- Parker Ehlinger- said that after meals, they would put all of the extras in a bowl and pass them around.
“It was completely disgusting,” Ehlinger said. “I think it’s slowly getting smaller.”
The program also teaches them about domestic and global hunger while its nondenominational worship brings into focus the relationship between faith and service to the poor.
Bill shared that hunger was something that students did not necessarily notice in their schools.
“They don’t see it and kind of keep a blind eye to it,” said Bill. “We challenge them to open their eyes and find out what they can do to help each other.”
Before sitting down for lunch, the participants had assisted in a number of ways at both the Northern Neck Food Bank (NNFB) in White Stone, as well as Social Services in Westmoreland County.
At the food bank, the eager group helped stack crates and sort nonedible items such as heart monitors and other supplies.
NNFB Director Lance Barton marveled at the youth having traveled so far to assist the local area.
“What a fantastic example of community support it is that people from Michigan…feel connected to the mission in the Northern Neck!” said Barton.
At social services, the Harvest of Hope youth organized canned goods for their food locker as well as items in their Santa Toy Shop.
Bill also shared that they helped move collective furniture around and washed the vehicles of social services staff as a way of thanking them for helping others.
Wilkins called the young helpers’ efforts a “pleasant thing” and welcomed them back next year.
“It was an awesome experience, and what a group of pleasant and delightful youth that were there!” she reflected.
Rising senior Josh Propst called the experience a way to connect to Christ and embrace the feeling of helping others in need.
“It gives sort of a cool feeling,” he shared. “I’ll be more open to helping others, and I won’t look at someone and give them the cold shoulder. I’ll be more willing to go out and help them.”
Rising freshman Julia Grier said that through the program, she had become a lot more aware of the problem of hunger that was even present in her own county and backyard, as the variety of ways in which they could help out with that problem.
Bill said that Harvest of Hope’s trip to the Northern Neck this year was his first, adding his first impression that, based on the information he ad, the recession had the region very hard in particular.
“We’re able to come in and help them. That’s all what this is about,” said Bill who could not withhold his gratitude for the hospitality that was provided to his group by local churches and General Testing Laboratories, as well as by Westmoreland State Park for giving them a place to stay.
“This area has some of the nicest people we have ever come across and have ever met,” Bill said. “No one knew what we did or where we were from, and they have opened their arms to us.
“We just feel the spirit move with us as we go from place to place,” he added.
Emily Moore, pastor of Warsaw United Methodist Church, said she had wonderful experiences from having worked with Harvest of Hope in the past.
“It’s hot and tiring work, but it’s incredibly rewarding,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to be able to offer fresh fruits and vegetables to people who wouldn’t be able to get them otherwise.”
The lunch her church provided to the program’s participants was their way of honoring them for their efforts in providing members of the community with food that was, in a sense, already there.
“It’s a fruitful way to use those resources that are already present,” Moore said.
Bill agreed, sharing that the participants learned from gleaning the crops not taken to market that they were still perfectly good- they just didn’t meet people’s “high expectations” to make it to the supermarkets.
“So now, [the participants are] looking at things like: ‘Why are we throwing that away?’” Bill said. “That food is just as nutritious.”
For more information about Harvest of Hope and the Society of Saint Andrew, visit http://www.endhunger.org.
By the time this story was submitted, over 54 billion pounds of food had been wasted this year in the United States according to the website’s statistics.