Bob Hoffman signed up to volunteer with us during a great time of need – March 2020, just as the pandemic began impacting our daily routine. Actually, it’s because of the fact that Bob’s part-time jobs were furloughed and other volunteer activities were suspended that he had the opportunity to volunteer with T2T.
Bob jumped right in and started volunteering on a regular basis, often volunteering twice a week. He did need to take a step back while he was teaching, but as soon as school was out he was back volunteering again and continues to volunteer one or two times each week, often filling in on volunteer shifts as the need arises.
Bob has been up for anything we’ve thrown his way, and we sure do appreciate all of Bob’s help and his positive attitude.
Bob’s advice to new volunteers
How did you first get involved with Table to Table?
I heard through Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) that Table to Table was needing volunteers due to the pandemic, so I contacted T2T and started right away.
What’s one of your favorite memories from your time volunteering with Table to Table?
After the Fourth of July last year I was subbing on a food rescue route during which we picked up over 2,000 pounds of donations, including thousands of sets of plastic utensils. My route partner for the day and I were wondering what we would do with so many utensils, but our first stop was a HACAP Head Start preschool program. We told them what we had, and the HACAP staff said, “We’ll take them all. We got told yesterday that we could no longer use utensils run through our dishwasher.” It all made me think that the stars were aligned for our work at T2T.
What is one thing you would tell new T2T volunteers when they’re first starting out?
Be prepared for anything. You may pick up 180 pounds of food one day and feel as if you didn’t accomplish much, but the next trip may be 1,600 pounds of food that the food pantries are thrilled to get that day to fill their empty shelves and fridges.
What do you wish other people knew about Table to Table and food insecurity?
Both the food donors and those who work at the recipient organizations are welcoming and friendly. The donors seem genuinely happy to have the food they won’t be selling going to those in need, and the people at recipient partners want the best for their clients. It’s rewarding to be the “middle man” for those groups.
Get to know Bob
What is one of your favorite food memories?
Eating fish soup in Newfoundland- fish fresh caught is nothing like we get here.
What are your hobbies?
Playing tuba and going to the theater
One thing that would surprise someone to learn about me is…
I played the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz… but not in the movie with Judy Garland
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream (or favorite dessert)?
A Banana Split Polar Bear at Main Street Sweets in West Branch
As the Gleaning Coordinator at Table to Table, I facilitated efforts to address the problems of food insecurity and food waste by working with local farmers who have excess produce, volunteers willing to harvest it, and recipient organizations serving our neighbors. Being able to rescue fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste and donate this produce to those in need has been extremely rewarding. I had multiple opportunities to chat with farmers and the recipients; farmers were very grateful for the service we provided while recipients were genuinely thankful to be getting locally-grown, fresh produce.
I must say that beyond the incredible volume of fresh, delicious and healthy food we collected and distributed, what really gave sense to my experience was this community I felt a part of; it made the entire process heartwarming.
I love to garden, I love vegetables and I love being outdoors. I also have a passion for people. These have been nine amazing months! What else can I ask for?
- It is wonderful to get the morning sunshine while working in the fields.
- It is good to be plugged into the local food system.
- It is valuable and exciting to learn how food is grown; the growers we worked with were so knowledgeable and passionate about growing the best quality food. I loved learning from them! It was so nice to develop a personal connection with so many of them.
- I didn’t know that urban agriculture was a “thing” in Johnson County. I had no idea there were so many farms in the city. So, learning about this small -but growing- movement of young people seeking out a more agricultural life was surprising and exciting. These hardworking, idealistic young farmers live around us. They invest hours and hours of their lives researching, connecting to the soil, experimenting with new crops, and growing quality produce. And what is even better, they don’t hesitate to donate the excess to those less fortunate. It gives me hope in humanity.
- The gleaning volunteers were awesome!!! Service-oriented, community-involved and outdoor lovers! It was great to get to know new people from all age groups! I got to work with teenagers, families, college students, and retirees. We shared many big laughs and friendly conversations; the camaraderie was touching. There was always a real sense of teamwork. I feel lucky to have met so many great people!
- It was a time to practice flexibility and adaptability. Every glean was an adventure. We gleaned when it was 90+ degrees and sunny. We gleaned in the rain. We gleaned in bitter cold days. We gleaned when we couldn’t find the field, when we didn’t bring enough boxes. We couldn’t lift the boxes containing hundreds of pounds of watermelons! We found ourselves in wet fields and with every step we would sink into mud. And we could be called upon to glean at any time on any farm; we never knew exactly when we were going to be out there. But in the end, none of these situations stopped us or slowed us down. We had a can-do attitude and we made it happen every single time, through teamwork.
- Our new partnership with Twin County Produce Auction (TCPA) added a new level of adventure. The huge success of collecting excess produce donated from farmers at the auction was a surprise for us at T2T and for those at TCPA! I greatly enjoyed getting to know their community in the process, ending with hugs at the end of the season.
- And finally, T2T staff is the best!!!! Friendly, helpful, committed, thoughtful, knowledgeable and, above all, nice, nice people. After 30 years in the corporate/scientific world, my time as Gleaning Coordinator at T2T has been a breath of fresh air. I enjoyed every single minute here.
Working for a good cause always makes me feel good, and the shared sense of fellowship with volunteers, farmers and the T2T team made this an enlightening experience.
by Jayne Meacham, Iowa Gleaning Network Program Development Coordinator
When I came to Iowa Gleaning Network as the Program Development Coordinator there was pretty much nothing there but opportunity, pulled from the founder’s brains into reality through their knowledge of the food system landscape and hunger in Iowa. By talking to the right people at the right time, and sheer determination and perseverance, IGN was formed to push forward food justice and increase access to healthy food during the economic crisis brought on by the Covid19 pandemic.
I was brought on by Table to Table to organize the Network and lead the three gleaning coordinators, who had already been hired ahead of me, meaning I had to hit the ground running. On top of that, my first week was only a few days after eastern Iowa had been hit by a derecho, a freak storm of direct, high-speed winds that devastated much of the area, and left thousands, including myself and my family, without power for many days. Being thrown into this new position at this extra-tumultuous time gave me a glimpse of what food rescues, and community-minded people in general, can do in a time of acute crisis. In my neighborhood I saw folks helping each other to clear large branches, directing traffic around obstacles and down cleared streets, and extension cords and power strips extending from generators to share limited power so neighbors could at least reach their loved ones.
When I got to Table to Table, it was all hands on deck, a kind of organized chaos. It was my first week, but I was tasked with helping clean, organize, and, of course, to distribute food – I got behind the wheel of a big transit van for the first time and delivered 1000 lbs of onions around Johnson County that had come from the first joint IGN gleaning event at a farm near Waterloo. It was a stinky but satisfying first mission.
My second week, I visited gleaning coordinator, Jessie, at Feed Iowa First in Cedar Rapids. The destruction in Cedar Rapids was like nothing I had ever personally experienced before – whole trees ripped from the ground, detours and caution tape everywhere, roofs and walls knocked down or just missing all together. A lot of people were outdoors cleaning, chatting, helping each other out, or just walking, as it was easier to get around on foot. I went back to Cedar Rapids the next day to join Feed Iowa First on one of their produce distributions at an apartment complex that had been hit hard by the storm. What I kept seeing– despite the destruction, the lack of power, the heat and humidity, and having to wear masks because we’re also in the middle of a pandemic– were people smiling and laughing, kids playing, people lending a hand to their neighbors; folks making the best out of an extreme situation and taking action to help each other out.
As my year with VISTA went on, I kept these observations present in my mind – that people want to help and laugh and be together. Through autumn and winter I researched gleaning, reached out to other gleaning organizations across the country, and designed and wrote a 20+ page manual on gleaning, spreadsheets to store gleaning data, and slideshows with instructions and information on gleaning, safety, and our mission. In all these resources I tried to instill a sense of what I had felt in my first weeks on the job – that gleaning could provide more than just food in bellies. Gleaning is community. Gleaning is helpful to so many:
- farmers who didn’t want to see their hard work just get plowed under
- folks who are going stir-crazy in their homes during the pandemic and want to get outside and have a nice activity
- people on a fixed income or whose budget is already stretched thin and want to make something healthy for dinner
- gardeners whose garden beds are more productive than they expected and need somewhere to take their extra produce
- kids who have come along to a gleaning event and get their hands dirty learning how to harvest the food they eat
Gleaning excess fruits and vegetables to give away to those who want them should be the standard, not the exception. I did my best to take care of the Network and help it grow to its full potential. At the end of the first season, 2020, we had gathered just under 25,000 pounds of produce with 3 IGN Gleaning Coordinators who were hired halfway through the growing season. After their service was over we came to the conclusion that the gleaning programs needed resources, not only the resource and instruction material I was writing, but also physical equipment to get their jobs done more effectively. I wrote a list of supplies each program would need for the upcoming season, priced everything out, and applied for and received a grant to purchase everything our programs needed for success. A highlight of my VISTA service was when I assembled all the gleaning kits and personally drove them to each of the 7 gleaning program host sites across Iowa. I happily drove my thousand mile cross-Iowa road trip and got to meet each coordinator.
I was especially pleased to meet Corinne Sills, the coordinator in Mason City, who is the only coordinator to return for a second year with IGN. Our discussions focused on the idea that gleaning is a community taking care of itself, sharing the abundance that springs forth from labor, and of people giving what they can and taking what they need –mutual aid, not charity. It’s clear that this message is shared by many in our state. In only our second year the network collected more than 70,000 pounds of fresh produce. Seventy thousand pounds of nutritious food that might have been left in the field and has now made its way to Iowan tables.
I hope that through my work as the Program Development Coordinator I have set the Iowa Gleaning Network on a good path toward long-term sustainability and many years of service to come. Gleaning may not be common in our culture, but it is simple. Gleaning is people coming together from various walks of life to gather what they can, save what’s worth saving, and to help each other out. It is mutually beneficial to all involved, and it is a sign of a healthy and vibrant community that can take care of itself and grow stronger in doing so. Gleaning is giving. I know no gleaner who doesn’t want to share.
After 5 years with Table to Table, Food Rescue Program Manager Emily Meister has accepted an exciting new opportunity as Eastern Iowa Regional Director of the National Farm Worker Program with Proteus. Proteus provides support services and medical care to migrant farm workers.
Emily originally joined the T2T team as a food rescue route volunteer in 2015 and transitioned from part-time staff to Food Rescue Program Manager in 2017. She’s brought her compassionate manner and dedication to eliminating food waste to each of her roles at T2T.
With Emily at the helm of route logistics and donor/client relations, we’ve increased food distribution from 1.8 million pounds of food to 2.4 million pounds each year. She has increased our number of regular food rescue routes by 25% and led several new initiatives that contribute to this incredible growth. These initiatives include expanding food sourcing opportunities to include the entire life cycle of food, from harvesting directly from farms and gardens to building relationships with food transport drivers who pass by Iowa City regularly and recovering food directly from food processors.
In her time at T2T, Emily has seized every opportunity to improve services and expand access to food throughout Johnson County. With these experiences under her belt, she’s going to be a great asset to Proteus and we wish her the best!
Join us for a farewell gathering at Big Grove on Wednesday, November 10th from 4pm to 6pm.
We are now accepting applications for the Program Manager role. Read more about the role and the qualities of the candidate we’re looking for here.
This letter from Executive Director Nicki Ross appeared in Table to Table’s Impact Report for fiscal year 2021.
When I think of this past year and the challenges it presented, I keep coming back to an overwhelming sense of gratitude; gratitude to you, the staff, volunteers, and each of our partners. It’s also difficult to summarize a year that feels like a decade, but I’m going to try.
We have learned a lot in our 25 years of operation, yet this year highlighted the challenges we face in fighting food insecurity. Most notably, how the inequalities in our food system are underpinned by structural racism and social inequality. It is a stark reminder that this crisis existed long before the pandemic and that food waste is inextricably linked to equity. As you’ll read in this report, in partnership with the incredible hunger relief network, we found even more ways to reclaim resources and increase food access.
Partnerships are the foundation that enable us to act quickly, expand, and diversify the ways we meet the changing needs of our community. We found new sources for our most requested foods and delivered more of these resources to the agencies that are on the front lines of a once-in-a-generation national hunger crisis. In a year when food was scarce and the need was greater than ever, Johnson County food pantries distributed more pounds of food per person than in the previous two years.
Our community understood that the first priority during a crisis is to make sure people are fed. Our daily work was made to do exactly this, feed our neighbors. To do this, we lean heavily on the collective power of people. You fueled our response – you are why, despite continued uncertainty, we’re in a position to serve our community for the months and years ahead.
Let me express one more time gratefulness for our T2T team and the staff and volunteers of all our partners who work tirelessly. Their commitment was unbowed by the sustained adversity of this year. Their work, guided by their hearts, their creativity, and courage allowed us to innovate and lead. I am incredibly proud to see them do what sometimes seems impossible.