Oliver organization sending out millions of servings of soup to help feed those in need

Soup to feed the world

Casey Richardson

Four million servings of Okanagan-sourced food will be sent around the world over the next few weeks from the Okanagan Gleaners in Oliver, as a part of their mission to make sure food isn't wasted, but given to those in need.

The Okanagan Gleaners harvest excess produce donated from local growers that are unsellable, either because the produce is too big to sell, too small to sell, not ripe enough or overripe. They dehydrate it to use in a vegetable mix.

Their vegetable soup packaging comes together twice a year to be sent around the world to countries in need.

The society has been running for over 25 years and the volunteers run like a well-oiled machine, packaging up dry mixes full of tomatoes, lentils, barley, beets, potatoes and any other vegetables given to them.

“Well, four million for this mixing is going to be exciting. But it's sad, because there is that much need. When we're done on Friday, all four million servings are spoken for. They will be gone,” general manager Greg Masson said.

Their first shipment heads out on Nov. 9 to Haiti, with a million servings of food. Soon after another million will follow there too. The third million will be sent out to Burundi and the last million go to places like Belize, Ukraine and Solomon Islands.

The organization works with distribution partners to get them into the hands of those in need.

“Our partner has to have people on the ground to pick up the food and to distribute the food. Otherwise, in a country like Haiti, with all the turmoil that's going on there now, it could end up black market, it could end up somewhere else other than how it's intended,” Masson added.

“So our partners have to have people on the ground where it's going to go. How do we know that? They send us videos, they'll send us pictures and they'll send us written reports as to how the food got distributed, where it went and that sort of thing.”

Since the organization started distributing in 1996, they’ve sent the food to 55 different countries with close to 130 million servings of food.

“The buzz phrase today is sustainability and food security. So we are able to take this excess that would just be wasted and feed hungry people.”

Currently, most of their fresh produce comes from Oliver, along with donations from a family farm over in Grand Forks that supplies potatoes and a farm in Washington that sends their Walla Walla onions.

“Over the years, growers have come on board with the fresh produce to be used. Volunteers have come on board and as you saw, we rely on volunteer people to come and do the work. And patrons have come on board to supply the cash that we need to keep the lights on, pay the natural gas bill, pay the property taxes, and that sort of thing.”

The work of the gleaners doesn’t stop after all the soup is packaged, as they dive into the next round of harvest and food dehydration.

“You can come and help us out. We operate Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. till 11:30 a.m. to noonish. By the time we cleaned up and everything's all put away for the day, we're out here by 12:15.”

Throughout the winter, local volunteers are needed more than ever.

“If you're able to come for two hours a week, two hours a month, whatever fits into your schedule, and then you can say, ‘Hey, I made a world of difference in somebody's life because I know they got food.’”

To volunteer, or donate funds or food, email [email protected] or visit their website here.

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