A few years ago at a meeting of the Alabama Farmers Federation meeting, Joe Mims approached a booth out of curiosity. What, he wondered, was the Society of St. Andrew (SOSA)?
He liked what he heard and on the spot he decided to help. The next season, he planted a patch of okra and invited SOSA to send volunteers to pick fresh okra every week. He has planted that patch of okra every year since—and he's still planting that patch in his retirement years.
"I liked what they were doing. I thought I could help," said Mims. "I consider it worthwhile."
Jesse Hoyer, once the Alabama Regional Director for SOSA, was the person Mr. Mims first contacted years ago to say he would plant four rows of okra for SOSA. "He called and said he'd plant it if we'd pick it. 'Will you come?' he asked, and I said absolutely we would come!" Hoyer continues to volunteer even though she now has a different job. "I still believe in the mission of SOSA," she said. "It's something I can do to help feed hungry people, a mission that is still important to me."
Hoyer brings her friend Krista Surtees most weeks, and they ride together to the Clanton farm and catch up with each other on the drive. "I deliver the okra Jesse and I pick to Green Spring Ministry," said Surtees. "It's a ministry supported by members of my my church. The families are always super excited to get fresh okra. And I like connecting with the farmers. Volunteering to glean with SOSA makes me aware of the best use of the resources around us, and connects us with farmers we can buy from."
Kelsey McClure agrees. "I love the community aspect of gleaning." McClure, the Development Director for Woodlawn Community Table, gleans at the site most Mondays. "There's a difference in farm fresh food—the color, the taste, it's undeniably better. I enjoy gleaning, I like that it's Biblical. Gleaning shows our thought, our concern, our systemic love for those we serve. It's a holistic and intentional way to show you care. It's love of God and love of community all tied together."
Now that Mims is retired, he still plants the okra in the same spot. "It's still important to me," he said. "So I still plant for Society of St. Andrew. I like to help feed hungry people." When asked if planting the patch was like a tithe, he just grinned. "It's well more than a tithe," he said. SOSA volunteers pick on Monday because it's the biggest harvest. Mims picks Wednesdays and Fridays for his family and others.
"The Society of St. Andrew Alabama Gleaning Network brings people together to harvest and share healthy food, reduce food waste, and build caring communities by offering nourishment to hungry neighbors," said Elizabeth Wix, Executive Director for SOSA in Alabama. "We do this by working with local farmers to glean excess or unmarketable produce. Volunteers help us harvest the food after the farm's commercial harvest and transport it to shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, and other nonprofits working to feed our neighbors in need."
SOSA maintains a gleaning calendar for those interested in picking fresh produce for local feeding agencies. Check it out at endhunger.org. You'll also find resources for your church like Advent devotionals and Bible school materials for use by local churches. In addition, you can contact the Alabama Regional Office to get information on crop drops and other ways your church can help. Contact Adrienne Holloway at 205-245-3214 or email@example.com.