Nonprofit collects produce for Boston hunger relief

Thanksgiving Autumn Pumpkin Seasonal Fall Harvest
The Boston Area Gleaners harvested tons of pounds of extra food to donate in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. / Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

By Allie Kuo, news correspondent

For the Boston Area Gleaners, Thanksgiving is a time to glean, or collect leftover produce, for their annual 10 Tons in 10 Days event. This year, the event took place from Nov. 3 to 12, during which volunteers collected 29 tons of produce for those in need.

The Boston Area Gleaners are a non-profit organization located in Cambridge which partners with farms to harvest and collect their surplus crops. They then donate the produce to local hunger relief agencies, including the Greater Boston Food Bank and Food for Free.

Typically, the Gleaners do not focus on collecting specific crops because it depends on what is seasonal, but the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving are an exception. Apples, carrots, potatoes, squash, greens and onions are in high demand this time of year because of their popularity during the holiday.

“We’re trying to help get these staple items on the table for Thanksgiving dinner when families might not be able to afford it,” said Matt Crawford, the distribution program manager for the Boston Area Gleaners.

Crawford said Food for Free, a Cambridge non-profit organization that distributes would-be discarded food into the local emergency food system, was the Gleaners’ original partner when 10 Tons in 10 Days began in 2014.   

“What they [Food for Free] do is they collect food from a lot of different places and then distribute it to food pantries, shelters, places like that,” Crawford said. “They were like, ‘Hey, for Thanksgiving we want to get orders from our agencies.’”

Food for Free benefits from working with the Boston Area Gleaners by obtaining fresh produce for those who need it, keeping food locally sourced and alleviating the cost of buying produce.

Ryan Lee, the operations director for Food for Free, said the organization gives people menus of various fruits and vegetables they can pick from, and the Gleaners help them source those ingredients to hand out for Thanksgiving.

“Our agencies are moving a lot of food at Thanksgiving time and ahead of time, we send out a sheet where they can place an order,” Lee said.

Lee said years ago, before he began working at Food for Free, he volunteered with the Boston Area Gleaners when they were a smaller organization traveling out to farms in an old, banged-up minivan.

Now, the Gleaners have more than 2,000 volunteers on their email list, with 300 to 400 who help glean each year, Crawford said.

One of those volunteers, 30-year-old Nikki Therrien of Roslindale, Massachusetts, said she was drawn to the organization because of their mission.

“The amount of food that is wasted in our country is astounding — especially when so many of our neighbors go hungry. The Boston Area Gleaners do something about this issue,” Lynn said. “Volunteering with them is a very tangible and concrete way to make a difference in my community.”

Crawford shares this sentiment, and said he is excited about how their work is shaking things up in the food system and making local produce accessible for a larger population.

“The food would just kind of sit in the field and we’re able to say ‘No, let’s take that and help everyone out here,’” Crawford said. He also describes a caring and exciting environment among the gleaners and those they partner with, including the farmers and recipient agencies.

With the 18 tons of apples, 4.25 tons of carrots, 2.6 tons of potatoes, 3.65 tons of winter squash and half a ton of greens gleaned in 10 days, many families in a time of need will still be able to enjoy a bountiful Thanksgiving meal.

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