‘Gleaning’ fellowship in the golden years

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Visalia Gleaning Seniors offers food and camaraderie for its members, other seniors

By Nancy Vigran
Reporter for The Sun-Gazette

VISALIA – The Visalia Gleaning Seniors started in 1976, clearing fields of unpicked vegetables and orchards of unused fruit. Today, while they no longer actually glean the fields, members continue to provide themselves and their peers with vegetables and fruit, and quite a bit more.

The concept started in Sacramento one year earlier. It was such a success, Visalia, being in the heart of the agricultural world, formed its own chapter on the same concept. They operate with no paid staff in a facility afforded them by the Visalia Unified School District with no rent to pay. In fact, the school district even covers utilities.

The motto is “seniors helping seniors,” said Donna Hall, vice president and office manager. And, the “fellowship of the community that a lot of seniors do not have later in life” is invaluable. 

Hall volunteers five days a week from 7 a.m. to noon. There are about 20 volunteers who donate their time at least three days per week.

Give and Take
Close to 300 members pay $50/year and volunteer, at a minimum, four hours per week. In return, they receive fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts all year long, as well as baked goods, and more. Farmers and packing houses donate food to the Gleaners. As the association is non-profit, their donations are a tax deductible. Due to its location, between Visalia and Farmersville, Visalia Gleaning Seniors also receives baked goods from Svenhard’s Swedish Bakery, located in nearby Exeter, and other foods from grocery stores.

Gleaner volunteers sort the donations and deliver them to 13 distribution points within Visalia and in Farmersville. Members may pick up anything they want, or need, from those locations. Manned four, five and sometimes six days per week, the manager at each distribution location has a list of nearby members to call and let them know what is coming, or has come in, that particular day.

It is through this contact and more, the Gleaners get to know other members and their habits. If something is wrong, or seems out of place, fellow Gleaners will investigate. They look after each other, rather like a very large family. The group holds two potlucks per year as a social gathering. The Elks Lodge donates the use of its facility for this purpose.

Marsha Clinton has been a member for three years and serves on the board. She also acts as membership secretary. 

“We help our own,” she said, referring to the older citizens. And, when someone is ill, in the hospital or at home, volunteers will often send out a card and/or check in with their fellow member.

Yard Sale Fundraisers
To help fray the costs of insurance, office and yard equipment and so forth, Visalia Gleaning Seniors holds four yard sales per year. Throughout the year, donations are continually welcomed, including clothing, knickknacks, small appliances, and more. The clothing warehouse and knickknack barn are open year-round for members to shop whenever they want.

Visalia Gleaning Seniors volunteers Nancy Minyard, manager of clothing thrift, and Donna Hall, office manager, discuss donations and the upcoming October yard sale. Photo by Nancy Vigran.

Visalia Gleaning Seniors volunteers Nancy Minyard, manager of clothing thrift, and Donna Hall, office manager, discuss donations and the upcoming October yard sale. Photo by Nancy Vigran.

The group also donates these recycled treasures to those in need within the neighboring community, no matter the age. 

“Everything we have is donated,” Hall said. “It all goes, we throw nothing away.”

That’s a Lot of Food!
The Visalia Gleaning Seniors processed 90,000 pounds of food in July. It averages 65,000-80,000 pounds during the winter months. If there is an overabundance of something, Visalia shares with the Porterville Gleaning Seniors. In turn, Porterville reciprocates, Hall said. During the August week of this interview, members received peaches, tomatoes, bell peppers, corn and watermelon.

A retired city clerk, Hall said upon her retirement she was looking for a way to volunteer and give back. Visalia Gleaning Seniors was the first to respond to her inquiry. “It has been absolutely wonderful,” she said.

Likewise, Gail Sussatt has been with the Visalia group since 2005, having served as president for 4½ years. She currently volunteers as the office receptionist, but has worked in most every way from boxing and delivering food to office management. “We’re just helping people who need help,” she said.

To join the Visalia Gleaning Seniors, one must be 50 years or older. Membership is offered to residents primarily within the Visalia School District area, but also includes Farmersville, Exeter and Ivanhoe. The facility is located at 28600 Avenue 156, between Walnut and Noble. The next yard sale is scheduled for Oct. 11, 12 and 13 at this location. For more information, call 559-733-5352.

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