After more than 20 years of helping feed millions of people around the world, an Okanagan non-profit organization is opening its doors to the public for the first time.
Volunteers at the Christian-based, non-profit Okanagan Gleaners are holding a family-friendly fall fair and open house at the production facility at 507 Road 3 near Oliver on Saturday.
The group utilizes voluntourism and a thriving local volunteer base to process surplus donated fruits and vegetables from area growers to create nutritious dehydrated soup mix. The soup mix is packaged and sent to countries around the world via humanitarian aid organizations to feed impoverished communities, schools, relief projects, mission groups and families.
“Even though Gleaners has been in operation for more than 20 years, there are still many people in the South Okanagan who don’t know about the organization and what we do,” said Dianne Knight, one of the event co-ordinators.
The idea to start a Gleaners operation in the South Okanagan started in 1994 after six local couples visited a similar facility in the U.S.
“They went down there and thought about all the wasted food we have here and that we could do something with it,” she said.
The first facility was operated out of an old tobacco barn. Over time property was acquired, a new facility built and more than 100 million servings of soup made for people in 60 impoverished countries including Ethiopia, Guatemala, Central America and Africa.
“We wouldn’t be able to do all this without the farmers who donate to us. They’re from all over the Okanagan, Washington and even Alberta. They donate their unused produce, or maybe vegetables, that are a little ugly or have a few flows or leftover apples from the packinghouses,” she said.
Knight said the facility costs a whopping $22,000 a month to operate, which includes a full-time staff member, capital expenditure and amenities.
“The bulk of that, of course, is hydro. We’re running a huge industrial dryer and we have a large commercial freezer. All that money is donated. Part of the deal is that we don’t sell any of the soup mix and that it goes overseas, so we raise the operating costs through donations,” she said.
Okanagan Gleaners attracts a variety of travellers to the area. People can camp or park their RV for free as long as they volunteer at the facility.
In the height of the summer the facility has around 60 volunteers a day. In the off-season that number drops to about 24. The facility is open Monday to Saturday 8:30 a.m. to noon.
“We get a lot of church groups in the summer. It gives them a chance to do something wonderful and explore the area,” she said.
Knight said private tours have been held at the facility over the years, but Saturday marks the first large community event.
The fall fair and open house starts at noon and runs till 4 p.m. Entry is by donation.
Musicians Kendra and Mataya will perform from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. followed by Hellard and Hirt from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
There is a large silent auction, children’s activities including face painting, wooden boat and plane building, scavenger hunt and more. There will also be guided tours.
“We want everyone to come out and see what we do and enjoy a great day. All the money raised goes right back into making more of the soup mix to help feed people from around the world,” she said.