Ruth’s Gleanings Tackles Food Insecurity During COVID-19
This week’s blog is written by Tonja Ruth Smith, Founder/Director, Ruth’s Gleanings
In 2020, Mary Black Foundation awarded Ruth’s Gleanings over $200,000 to support their work in increasing healthy food access by rescuing excess fresh produce from local farms and placing it in food pantries, soup kitchens, and mission homes throughout Spartanburg County.
Navigating Healthy Food Access During COVID-19 Pandemic
In January of this year, Ruth’s Gleanings celebrated the grand opening of our new food-packing hub in Pacolet, SC. We knew that the increased capacity was needed and would be put to good use to bring more fresh, healthy food to Spartanburg County families in need. In March, the world changed when COVID-19 disrupted life and the food system as we knew it. While restaurants, schools, businesses, and other organizations shut down or scaled back, Ruth’s Gleanings went into overdrive to provide much-needed fresh produce to our FoodShare families and our local food pantries, community centers, and churches.
Ruth’s Gleanings empowers people in nutritional poverty by increasing access to fresh, healthy food. We do this through our gleaning program and our FoodShare fresh food box program. When COVID-19 caused farmers and distributors to scramble to place their produce, both of our programs immediately experienced double the demand. With community support we added a part-time logistics coordinator, who outfitted our new pull-behind trailer with refrigeration, allowing further capacity to distribute the thousands of pounds of produce onto thousands of families’ tables.
From February to March, the demand for our FoodShare box doubled from 300 per month to 600 per month, and has continued at these levels into October. These have been distributed through our Northside location at 147 Chapel Street in Spartanburg, and through nine partner sites throughout the county. FoodShare is a healthy fresh produce box that is aggregated and distributed bi-weekly through marketing and sales of the food at wholesale cost. It is geared for low-income and SNAP/EBT participants. Year-to-date we have provided 75,000 pounds of produce through 4100 FoodShare boxes.
Throughout the summer months, our gleaning program participated with the USDA Farmers to Families program. This program was instituted through the CARES Act in order to keep our nation’s food system running, our farmers producing, and our distributors fully staffed. Collaborating with Partners for Active Living (PAL), we formed 18 partnerships with pantries, community centers, and churches to distribute nearly 85,000 pounds of produce to 4700 families in need. That’s $125,000 worth of economic activity in the local food system supplying healthy, fresh food to Upstate families during a time of crisis.
Continuing the Work
All of this exciting and abundant work would not be possible without the many blessings of God, our many partners, the support of our community, our staff, and the incredible volunteers that make it all come together. Even when people couldn’t go to work, our essential volunteers continued to show up wearing masks, packing and hauling boxes of the beautiful bounty that we continue to receive. This collaborative effort continues to be proof of the unique unity we all enjoy in Spartanburg. Additionally, we would like to thank Mary Black Foundation for their generous support through a two-year grant to help cover costs of operations and capacity building. There is much more work to do to combat nutritional poverty and health disparities!
Finally, our FoodShare Spartanburg program is part of a statewide network of FoodShare programs. Over the next five years, the original FoodShare South Carolina will expand hubs into another 30 South Carolina counties. We are grateful to be a part of this strengthening of the food system for those who struggle with access to fresh food. We invite you to visit ruthsgleanings.com to learn more and to sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch!