Following a call to action by the Governor, the Washington State Potato Commission of Moses Lake began working with local food banks to help fight hunger among local families.
Peny Archer of the Moses Lake Food Bank assisted the Commission's Brittany Gies in organizing a potato field gleaning project to provide healthy produce to those who struggle most.
The Moses Lake Food Bank serves over 1,400 families each month. Of those families, 18 percent are senior citizens, 44 percent are children under the age of 18, and the majority are working families that do not make enough to support themselves. Each family is only granted one visit to the food bank a week and donations are running short.
The Potato Commission turned to potato growers for support. With help from the farming community, the Commission organized opportunities for volunteers to gather potatoes after harvest. After mailing out over 50 letters to churches and schools requesting volunteers to glean potato fields, the WSPC received early responses from Crestview Christian School and Big Bend Community College.
Crestview Christian School had over 30 volunteers-students from grades 1-9, teachers, parents and grandparents. On Oct. 14, they accompanied Brittany Gies to Gies Farms, Inc. The volunteers paired up and walked the harvested field, gathering potatoes, filling their burlap sacks and carrying them to a truck for loading.
In competition with other students, Katlyn White, Brenna White, Viviana Cortez and substitute teacher Azure Goltz walked a half mile to the end of the field and quickly realized that the full bags of potatoes were too heavy to carry and a truck had to be sent out to pick them up.
Student Dale Smith walked over 6,000 steps, according to the pedometer that the WSPC provided for each student. The volunteers worked for three hours and successfully gathered 1,347 pounds of potatoes that were delivered to the Moses Lake Food Bank.
After the work was finished, Gies organized a potato sack race and distributed potato facts. The teachers plan incorporate fun facts like "potatoes contain dietary fiber and carbohydrates, the body's fuel" into lesson plans.
Members of Big Bend Community College's International Honor Society Phi Theta Kappa joined math instructor and PTK advisor Barbara Whitney and director of public information Autumn Weis in gleaning 1,100 lbs. of potatoes from fields provided by Jensen Farm Produce, also for the Moses Lake warehouse.
"Thanks to Dale, Mike and Joe Gies of Gies Farms, Inc., Matt Roberts of Crestview Christian School, Andy and Adam Jensen of Jensen Farm Produce and Barbara Whitney of Big Bend Community College for making the 2008 WSPC gleaning project a success," said Gies.
Other growers and processors who joined the battle to help fight hunger were: Paul Morris of Morris Farms, who donated 6,000 lbs. to the Moses Lake Food Bank; Ann Van Dyke of Blakal Packing, donating 2,500 lbs. to the Brewster Food Bank; and Doug Moore of Diamond M, Inc. and AJ Ochoa of the Ochoa Corporation offering their fields for gleaning.
This was the first year the WSPC became involved in this program and the Commission hopes to make it more successful each year.