A local group has returned from a trip to the United States where they spent weeks packing food to help feed people in third-world countries.
Earlier this year, George and Tina Veenstra, John and Pat Vandermeer, along with Ken Turner and Shirley Reitsma travelled to California to volunteer with Gleanings for the Hungry, a Christian non-profit organization that helps feed people around the world.
Gleanings relies on fruit and nut donations, some that are not visibly good enough to sell in stores, that they use to produce dried soup mix and dehydrated fruits to be packaged and shipped off to other countries.
The group volunteered in the soup plant, filling barrels with soup mix and scooping trail mix into bags.
John and Pat Vandermeer first heard about the organization 15 years ago from Pat’s brother who had gone the year before.
“We went along in 2000 and we’ve gone every year since,” said Pat, who spent 10 weeks at the facility in Sultana, which is roughly a three-day drive from Smithers.
“We wanted to help those less privileged than we are and that was a good way to do that.”
Shirley Reitsma, who finished her fourth visit with Gleanings, wanted to achieve a lifelong goal.
“I thought before I turn 80, I want to go and I asked Tina to come along and she said ‘I’m game’,” she said.
The group was also given a place to stay and meals in exchange for their work.
“Most people can do [the work]. I know a lot of people who got pretty tired at the end of the day,” said Pat, noting that they worked roughly seven to eight hour days.
The volunteer-run facility consists of the soup plant, 16 duplexes, a library, kitchen and other living quarters.
According to the Vandermeers, the number of volunteers has steadily increased over the past 15 years.
“There’s a lot of people who come and go, so you get to meet a lot of people,” said John, noting that if they add up all their weeks there, they’ve spent two and a half years at the facility.
“When we first started there were 15 to 20 volunteers coming through in one week and now they have 100 coming through every week,” added Pat.
The group said they see many of the same people returning year after year and they enjoy the camaraderie that comes with volunteering for a good cause.
“When you’re there for nine to 10 weeks, you meet a lot of people and a lot of them come every year . . . We call it a big family reunion every year,” said Pat.
For Tina and George, it was their first time volunteering with the organization.
“It was a very good experience. It was very worth-while, well organized and you really felt like part of a team being together,” said Tina, who volunteered for two weeks. “I like the idea that it’s food that would otherwise be wasted and is used to feed people.”
“I would definitely like to do it again, it was such a great experience.”
Gleanings for the Hungry began in 1982. In 2012, they shipped more than 2 million pounds of food to 26 countries including Guatemala and Thailand.