Have you ever walked by the “clearance” shelf at the grocery store and wondered what happens to unsold items? Excess food often winds up at the dump or food banks—or it could be donated to a gleaning group. Gleaning (also called food recovery) is an efficient way to redirect surplus food to those who need it. Although processes vary, the principle is simple: Gleaning group members earn a share of recovered food by helping to gather and distribute it. Each day, members pick up food from partner businesses (stores, bakeries and farms), inventory it and unload it at a central location or “depot,” where it’s picked up for consumption or distribution to needy individuals and community organizations. Most gleaning groups are grassroots, nonprofit organizations staffed by volunteers. Partner businesses get a tax write-off for donated items. As the economy has weakened and awareness of our waste problem has grown, gleaning has become more prevalent. The Department of Agriculture lists more than 500 gleaning organizations in its handbook, “A Citizen’s Guide to Food Recovery,” and even more are run by local charities.
What sorts of items do gleaning groups pick up from stores? Produce, bread, milk, frozen items and dry goods are all commonly gleaned items.
Who benefits from a gleaning program? In addition to gleaning group members, individuals with short and long-term needs and community resources such as senior centers and after-school programs receive proceeds. Leftover gleanings are composted or used for animal feed.
Who can join? Different groups have different guidelines. Contact a gleaners group near you. Some charge a nominal fee to join; others have income requirements or expect members to commit to a certain number of volunteer hours. To find a group near you, visit the Department of Agriculture Handbook or call your local Chamber of Commerce. You can also contact the USDA Office of Communications at (202) 720-5881.