Story By Marissa Price
ince their start in 1976, the Visalia Gleaners have played an important role in our community for those over the age of 50. At the beginning, senior citizens would quite literally “glean” for crops in our rural community as a way of providing for themselves and their fellow seniors. Instead of allowing produce from local farmers and supermarkets to go to waste, the Visalia Gleaners came together to find a way to support themselves and the farming community.
The organization no longer gleans produce directly from the fields, but it still receives fresh fruits, vegetables and meat from local supermarkets. It is a true blessing for these seniors to have food like London broil, crab, shrimp and T-bone steak delivered to them, rather than having to buy these items from the store.
Judie Casey, now president of Visalia Gleaners, started as a driver picking up bread and sweets. In a quick turn of events, Judie was asked to be on the board and voted in as president all in one meeting. That was one year ago. Now, through her diligent efforts, along with the help of the office crew and drivers (not to mention all of the senior volunteers), the Gleaners have built a stake in the community. Many changes are happening for the organization. New trucks, storage systems and an alarm system have been made possible through local donations.
The creation of an outlet for potentially wasted food products fills a need within our elderly communities. Residents of more than 250 homes are fed daily thanks to the Gleaners. The organization has a main location where events and packaging take place. Volunteer duties range from yard cleaning to pricing goods. And for the safety of anyone who is unable, no heavy lifting is required. Most vehicle deliveries are done within a few short hours in the morning, seven days a week. After arriving at one of the participating grocery stores, drivers load food into the trucks and drive to the 13 drop points in Visalia. There, qualifying seniors can pick up fresh groceries and produce.
In addition to food delivery, the Gleaners host multiple yard sales throughout the year, with proceeds supporting its operations. Here you’ll find beautiful furniture, great knickknacks, classic books, an assortment of plastic items, shoes and clothes — if you name it, they probably have it. This is a great opportunity for the public to see what the organization is doing. It also presents an opportunity for members to engage with one another and form lasting friendships.
For those over the age of 45 interested in joining the Gleaners, a small annual fee and some volunteer hours are required. But any Visalian eager to participate is able to volunteer their time and skills, giving them a sense of purpose and a way to give back and support their community. And in doing so, volunteers find a sense of belonging and friendships continue to flourish.
Judie is excited to see the Gleaners grow by adding more volunteers. “We would love to have people call and ask for information!” she says. Plenty of opportunities exist to aid senior Visalians. Food is only the beginning for the Gleaners; the intangible benefit of fellowship adds a priceless value to being part of this organization.
To contact the Visalia Gleaners, call (559) 733-5352.