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Gleaners keep up production despite COVID challenges

LEAMINGTON — The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners continue to see good production despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Year to date, the SWO Gleaners have donated 2.2 million servings of dehydrated vegetable mix to other charitable organizations locally, nationally and internationally.

This is down slightly from last year’s numbers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

General Manager, Joel Epp says that COVID has affected this year’s numbers.

“COVID-19 forced us to close for 12 weeks in the spring. It also has forced us to change our shifts,” he said. “We eliminated the Tuesday afternoon shift and made two shorter shifts in the morning instead of one each day to allow for less people in the building at one time.”

The goal is to eventually change back to the normal shifts, but that will depend on the pandemic.

Since re-opening in June, the SWO Gleaners have operated with new safety guidelines for their staff and volunteers.

Gleaners volunteers Michelle Stenger, Justina Quiring, Nadi Wall, Ben Wall and Mike Sexsmith inspecting carrots.

Volunteers are spread out over two shifts with maximum 15 persons per shift. Shifts are now 8 am - 10 am and 10 am - 12 noon. Social distancing and increased PPE have become the norm.

Volunteers are required to wear masks and faceshields along with their normal gloves and hairnets.

“The added PPE is the last defense in our safety protocol to stop the virus from spreading if it were to be in our building,” said Epp. “Social distancing, extra cleaning and eliminating break-time are the main safety measures that we had to implement. The health and safety of our staff and volunteers is our first priority.”

There are some volunteers, because of age or health issues, that have not been able to return. Others, like church groups, students and other groups have had to postpone their visits indefinitely because of the pandemic.

Operations have been at about 70% of what it was before the pandemic. The Gleaners are hopeful that with a few more volunteers and quality produce donations, production will only increase.

Unfortunately more and more people have been relying on food banks and soup kitchens during this pandemic. Internationally, there are many countries that were struggling even before the pandemic, and need the help of organizations like the SWO Gleaners.

Now more than ever, the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners have an important role to play in giving people nutritious meals. This year, vegetable mix has been distributed by partnering organizations to Haiti, Nicaragua, Ukraine and various countries in Africa.

Apple season is currently underway for the SWO Gleaners. Dried apple snacks are packed into the Windsor, Leamington and Kingsville Goodfellows Christmas hampers, as well as given to the food banks in the area for distribution.