OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — Sus Manos Gleaners in Jenison is scheduled to reach 1 million meals of dehydrated produce prepared and shipped to hungry people around the world—just this year.
While there are gleaner organizations like this one in Canada, Sus Manos is the only one of its kind in the US, and they hope to spark a nationwide movement.
Thanks to West Michigan farmers and volunteers, produce that might have ended up in the landfill is now feeding hungry people.
"Our tag line is surplus food for starving people," said co-founder Tim Paauw. "In two or three hours a group can put together 8,000 meals that are dehydrated."
Ten local farms donate on average 6,000 pounds of produce a day.
"This is produce central and we are right in the middle of it," said co-founder James Paauw, Tim's dad.
Volunteers wash the produce, chop out non-edible pieces, and then dice them onto trays that go into a commercial dehydrator. Those pieces are bagged and shipped to organizations like orphanages, churches and schools.
"All of our food is soaked or boiled and they will make an applesauce that is served with rice," said Carrie Hill, Director of Human Resources. "The dehydration process makes the food much lighter for shipping, but it maintains its nutritional value."
These meals have met massive needs in Haiti, the Philippines and Ukraine this year.
"Our volunteer load has increased dramatically with our efforts in Ukraine," said Hill. "I think so many of us were watching what was happening in Ukraine and felt like there was nothing we could do. But this hands-on process requires you to roll up your sleeves and get right to work getting that produce out to the hungry."
Those efforts have brought them to Friday's 1 million meal milestone.
"It makes me emotional," said Hill. "One million was a goal at the beginning of the year but it seemed impossible. But through volunteers and schools and groups and teams we have been able to creep and creep closer to that million mark."
It's just the beginning.
"Our biggest hope is that Sus Manos can help spark a movement. If we could grow this idea beyond West Michigan the impact would be astounding," said Tim.
Tim and James founded Sus Manos after taking some youth group kids to British Columbia to learn about gleaners. They got home and realized there were no organizations in the states doing this work, so they started doing it themselves.
Now there is also a group in Kalamazoo that will soon be doing the same. It's called Kalamazoo Valley Gleaners. They now have a building and are hoping to open their doors in the coming year.
Sus Manos is always looking for more volunteers. Visit their website to learn more.
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