Passing the Baguette

bread okThis past Tuesday, rather than do my usual volunteering task of packing food for clients, I went and picked up the Panera bread and sweets that get donated to our pantry, since the lady who regularly makes this run is on vacation this week.  I think a while ago I mentioned the bread we get from Panera, but for those who have not read that post let me explain.  Once a week on Tuesdays the food pantry receives a delivery of breads and sweets that Panera Bread would otherwise throw away because they had not sold within Panera’s allotted time.

I have been curious about how these items get to us, so I was happy to make the run to pick them up.  Instead of heading into the pantry on Tuesday, I drove to an office park near Wilmington, DE, where I met the person who is the first leg of the relay.  After picking up the bread and sweets from Panera in West Chester, PA, she brings them to work with her.  I asked her how this relay came to be.  She said that she saw Panera employees throwing away the bread products one day and asked them about what they were doing.  She was told it was bread that hadn’t sold and if she couldbagels find someone to come and take the bread, Panera would let her have it.  She called all around the West Chester area and no one needed bread.  While conducting this search, she made contact with the person who is the second leg of the relay.  This lady knew about our pantry through one of our volunteers and asked us if we might be interested in this Panera bread if she brought it to us.  Absolutely!  And the relay was born–from a West Chester Panera to a business park in Wilmington, DE to a food pantry in rural Southern Chester County.

We usually get 1-2 grocery carts full of all sorts of bread products-baguettes, boules, rolls, bread bowls and bagels-in white, wheat and seeded form.  In addition to the breads, we get panera sweetssweets as well, from Danish and scones to cookies and brownies to muffins and cinnamon buns.  We get whatever didn’t sell.  Once the bread and sweets get to us we package them for storing so they can be distributed throughout the week.  I usually help with packaging the sweets.  These we wrap individually in plastic wrap.  We don’t get enough sweets to give to every household, so we save them for treats for clients who are experiencing an unusual hardship, like caring for someone who is ill or a grandmother raising her grandchildren.  Most of what we receive is bread and the bread products get bagged to be frozen.  A retired couple comes in on Tuesday afternoons to volunteer to do this task.  The amount of bread we get each week determines how we distribute it.  Usually we have enough to distribute something to each household, but sometimes when the delivery is small we use save the bread for large families to help augment their allotment.  We also use this bread for our homeless clients when we can.

I love this arrangement for several reasons.  First, I love that this perfectly good food is not going to waste and into a landfill.  In addition to our group getting the bread from this Panera on Monday nights, other groups pick up unsold bread on other nights.  Secondly, I love that our clients, who’s lives are full of struggle and stress, are getting a treat.  Who doesn’t love a loaf of good bread or some nice bagels?  Finally, I love the humanity exhibited by all the people who go out of their way to make this happen week after week.  Being a part of this relay of bread, and now understanding what each person does to keep bread out of the trash and get it delivered to people who need it, helps to restore my faith in the generosity and kindness of the American people.




Mention the word glean and most people will think of gathering information from variousthe-gleaners-1857 sources, because that is how the word is mostly used today.  But glean has an historical definition, meaning to gather grain or other crops left in the field after a harvest.  In some ancient cultures gleaning was encouraged as a method to assist those in need, an early form of helping the food insecure.  The Bible and the Torah instructed farmers to leave sections of fields unharvested or to not pick up crops dropped during harvest.  These crops were to be left for the poor or strangers.

Today, many emergency food organizations have gleaning programs.  Some programs, like FOOD (Food On Our Doorstep) Share in Oxnard, CA coordinate an extensive network of volunteers and growers.  This organization harvests an average of 50,000-60,000 lbs. of produces each month, mostly from farms, but also from backyard gardens and fruit trees.  Other gleaners2programs may just have a handful of volunteers who establish a relationship with a few farmers or gardeners.  Currently Chester County Food Bank does not seem to have a gleaning program, but they did at one time.  When I first considered volunteering at food banks, gleaning was one of the areas in which I had considered volunteering my time.  It appeals to me in two ways.  First, gleaning helps to eliminate waste.  America is an incredibly wasteful society, embarrassingly so in my opinion, and keeping any fresh produce from becoming part of the waste stream, particularly in landfills is a step in the right direction.  Secondly, gleaning gets fresh produce into the hands of people who would otherwise not have access to it.

I often wondered how successful a gleaning program would be in our corner of Chester County.  While we live in a rural setting, most of the farmers growing on any large scale are Amish.  I was unsure whether they would assist the non-Amish community and give away the fruits of their labor.  I wasn’t even sure if they would have excess produce to donate.  I know many Amishamish-farming-dy farmers have produce stands and travel to local farmers’ markets, but maybe they would keep any excess produce to share within their community.  Or maybe there would be little to no waste  because they canned or otherwise preserved their harvest and gave any marginal produce to their livestock to eat.  They are such a simple, plain folk, maybe they very conscientiously only grew what they could use, frowning on excess.  I just did not know.

012d233fda6026a80e2dd7f7d677d04d2e7579e13eThis summer I got my answer.  Every Tuesday morning a van belonging to one of the local food panties would go to Amish farms to collect what they could not use or sell.  During the latter part of summer, when the vegetable harvest is in full swing, the van would return loaded with corn, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers and more!  Learning this brought me happiness on many levels.  I was glad to see folks in need of food getting access to so much fresh produce.  I was pleased to see that food was not going to waste.  And I was happy to know that this connection existed between our communities.  I am quite fond of the Amish farmer who’s produce stand I frequent, and while I do not completely agree with all of their practices, I do believe we could learn much from them.