Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

"Gleaning" to Feed the Hungry in Centre County

The Food Reclamation Network is a new charity upstart for Centre County, based on the biblical practice of gleaning.

“Want some lunch? It’s free! Can’t argue with these prices!”

Jessie Pierce stands behind a picnic table with her hair tucked under a bandana, waving a ladle at passersby. Steam rises from a large orange bucket from the Home Depot; it is filled with food.

The Food Reclamation Network started partnering with State College Food Not Bombs last month to host Free Food Friday. It’s a picnic-style free lunch, with bread the Network acquires from Panera and soup from Food Not Bombs.

Pierce co-founded the Food Reclamation Network in January. The Network “gleans” food that would otherwise go to waste – like day-old Panera bread. In the Bible, “gleaning” is the practice of harvesting produce that God tells farmers to leave behind for the poor.

The Network stretches the concept beyond farms. Pierce first collected donated food back in April from Wegman’s after Passover.

“I showed up in the parking lot, and then left with 350 pounds of frozen gefilte fish,” she said.

Though the Food Reclamation Network is not affiliated with any religious institutions, Pierce is influenced by passages about charity in the Bible, her studies on the environment and food insecurity, and her previous volunteer work with the Gleaning Network of South-Central PA. The greatest reason she does this work, however, is to fill a need.

“State College Food Bank itself is pretty well stocked most of the time, but a lot of the ones in Snowshoe and Philipsburg and places like that are more underserved, and those are the places we’re trying to break into,” said Pierce.

Pierce’s deliveries have gone to the Penns Valley Community Action Group in Aaronsburg and the Centre Hall Potter Township Food Bank. And she’s trying to link up with other rural food banks.

Pierce said the need isn’t exclusive to one age group. The Bellefonte Food Bank serves mostly persons over 65, but in State College, a lot of the student body needs help.

“It ranges all over the place, there are lots of different faces of food insecurity in Centre County," she said.

And while she would like to serve all of them, it’s just not possible yet.

The Network is currently staffed by 5 core volunteers, with a rotating cast of about 15 others. In Pierce’s words, “Small but growing.”

An even bigger obstacle than size is red tape. The Network serves food banks, the Women’s Resource Center, the Park Forest Preschool and one homeless shelter. Pierce is only able to help the Hearts for the Homeless shelter right now, because it is run entirely on third-party donations. Housing Transitions isn’t able to accept donations, because it is government funded. This frustrates Pierce.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense that I can’t donate food to people who need it,” she said.

Free Food Friday helps Piece fill in the gaps. It’s a way for those in non-participating shelters to receive donations.

Pierce said, as with any new organization, participation varies. The first Free Food Friday, they fed around two hundred people. Only ten people enjoyed the free lunch a subsequent week. Location has a lot to do with it. Their biggest turnout was on campus. When Free Food Friday was in Central Parklet, not many people came.

Today, the Free Food Friday lunch will be in front of the Allen Street gates.

The growing season is just beginning, so Pierce hasn’t been able to glean much fresh produce yet. She says Centre County presents unique challenges and opportunities for produce gathering.

“Rural areas tend to be much more verdant and filled with farmland so that makes fresh produce much easier to acquire. However, because rural areas are much more spread out, it’s more difficult to transport produce effectively," said Pierce.

Pierce won’t be picking up fruits and vegetables just from big farms. The Network will accept donations from gardeners who end up with excess vegetables in their personal gardens.

Whether the donations are coming from a big farm, a bakery chain or someone’s backyard, Pierce thinks gleaning can make a real difference.

The only expenses are those associated with transporting the food: vehicles and gas.

“It’s a fairly cost-effective way to decrease hunger and increase sustainability in Centre County,” says Pierce.

For more information on the Food Reclamation Network of Centre County, please click here to go to their website.