We spent two and a half weeks volunteering at YWAM’s Gleanings for the Hungry in Dinuba, California. Youth With A Mission (YWAM) is a non-denominational Christian organization that encompasses a bunch of different ministries including lots of DTSs (Discipleship Training Schools) and mission trips.
*You can read more about why we volunteer on the road, as well as who we volunteer with (including an overview of YWAM) here.
Gleanings for the Hungry is a unique YWAM base located just outside of Dinuba, CA (about 45 minutes out of Fresno). While this is our second time volunteering with YWAM, because each base is unique we still didn’t know what we were in for!
We were in for a blessing!
We pulled in on a Sunday afternoon so that we would be ready to start, with whatever work they had for us, right away Monday morning. All we knew about this base was that they gleaned from the local farms (definition of gleaning = “to gather grain or other material that is left after the main crop has been gathered”), then took that food, which would otherwise have been wasted, and used it to feed people in 3rd world countries. We weren’t sure what that process would look like, or how we would be able to help with it.
When our caravan pulled in to Gleanings, we were directed to the far end of their street, where they have a beautiful area for RVs! Level, concrete pads with full hookups, the sites were huge – Vaughn could have left his truck hooked up to our 42′ 5th wheel and I could have parked the van in front of it!
Weekday mornings the day starts bright and early at Gleanings, and breakfast is served between 7 and 7:30 (that is early for us to be ready to be out of the house! lol). Worship is at 8, and happens every weekday morning at this base.
After worship, announcements, and prayer, then it’s time for a morning snack and then off to work. Lunch break is from noon to 1, then back to work until 4:30 or 5 (with a snack break in there!). Dinner is at 5:30, then volunteers have free time, with the option to go to special programs several nights of the week.
Each week this base hosts new volunteers, so every Monday morning everyone available, from staff and students, to volunteers, gets introduced to everyone else. It was nice to ‘meet’ who we would be working with over the coming weeks!
For both weeks that we were there on the regular volunteering schedule, there were groups coming in to stay in the onsite dorms and volunteer also. They ranged from homeschool co-ops to church groups to individuals who had driven across the country to help out with their time and labor.
Gleanings processes several different kinds of food items, depending on the time of the year. During the summer they collect, dry, and package peaches and nectarines, and for January, and sometimes into February, they mix and package trail mix.
During the winter months, the main area that volunteers help out with is the ‘soup plant’. It’s in the soup plant that all things soup related happen. From the delivery of huge containers of dried lentils, veggies, and other soup ingredients to the packaging of the soup into barrels to be transferred over to the shipping dock.
We were able to help out at with several different projects/ministry, but the soup plant was our favorite, and we were able to help there too since that is what was going on while we were at Gleanings. Dried ingredients are brought in in big containers, and are placed on pallets on weight scales. Dried soup mix is made in such large quantities that ingredients are measured by weight instead of by volume. Some of the most common soup mix ingredients are dried lentils, rice, dried veggies, and pasta, depending on the country that it is going to and what is available. Here Jake is running a huge vacuum! The scale on the wall behind him gives him the weight of the bag of lentils. His job was to lower the vacuum into the bag of lentils, and suck up 120 pounds of beans. He had to anticipate how early he would have to raise the vacuum up out of the lentils for the weight to be correct after it finished bringing up the ingredients that were in the pipe, to get the correct weight so the soup ratio would be right.
Molly thought that vacuuming beans was a little loud. 😉
Once he had vacuumed up the correct amounts of all the different ingredients, the ingredients were mixed up in a huge hopper. Then the dried soup mix was measured out into these large rolling bins…
The soup plant had multiple stations, so volunteers could move around and do different jobs. One of the jobs that had to be done before any soup could be packaged, was to measure out the seasonings. Soup mix is packaged differently depending on where the soup mix will end up. This batch of soup was being sent to Kenya, and the mix was being packaged into quart zipper bags. Before the dried mix could be portioned, seasonings were added to the bags. Seasonings are mixed in large rubbermaid-type totes, and then simply scooped into the zipper bags with a tablespoon. It was dusty work, but no-one minded a bit!
The area below is where the packaging would take place…
The bins above are full of soup mix; they are covered when they are not being used, to keep off any flies.
One or two people would stand next to the bins full of dried soup mix, with a small measuring scoop that was just the right size to fill up a quart bag.
They would scoop up soup mix, then dump it down the rectangular metal funnel that is in the top of a barrel, with cut-out sides, in front of the bin. There would be 2 volunteers, one sitting on each side of the barrel waiting, one with their zipper bag held under the spout. The soup mix would fall into the zipper bag, filling it up. The volunteer would then pull the zipper bag onto their lap, zip it up, and toss it on the metal table on their other side. There would be 2 volunteers, alternating holding the bag under the funnel, as the scooper can scoop up soup mix faster than the baggers can zip up their bags, place them on the table, grab another bag with seasoning in it, and open it up to hold it under the funnel again.
Once a bag had seasoning in it, was filled with soup, zipped up, and placed on the stainless steel table, then other volunteers would open them slightly, shake and press the bags down to remove as much air as possible, flatten the bags so they stack well and zip them back up.
The stacked bags would then be placed on a second table, behind the first, waiting for the barrel packing volunteers to get to them. The assembly line moved things along surprisingly fast!
The target number of bags for each barrel was around 150 quart sized bags. Each bag, when reconstituted, makes 10 cups of soup.
The packaging goal for the soup plant each week? One Million servings of soup. each week.
After the barrels are filled with packages of soup mix, they are sealed up…
and transported to the loading dock to wait for a truck to take them to port to be shipped out.
Several trucks of soup mix went out while we were at Gleanings; 2 went to Kenya, and another to Guatemala. Each time a truck leaves with a shipment of food, staff, volunteers, students…really, anyone who is available, goes out to see the truck off. They talk a little bit about where it’s going, and then pray over the truck and for the people who will be receiving the soup.
It was neat to see the network that so many ministries have – how they work together to further each other’s mission and outreach. It was also neat to see soup that we had helped to package, be sent off, on it’s way to it’s destination.
Packaging soup was not the only volunteer efforts that were needed/done while we were at Gleanings.
On Monday morning of each week, after those initial introductions, volunteers are asked where they would like to help out on the base. While the majority of the volunteers are used in the soup plant, there are also other needs on the base. Needs like help with the landscaping (mowing and leaves), helping in the kitchen (to feed upwards of 100 people), and in the quilt room. There are also other needs depending on the season and what is going on on the base.
Can I brag for a second? When they asked for volunteers for landscaping, my boys looked around the room and saw that no-one else wanted to do it. There was a fairly large group of homeschoolers there from San Francisco, and they all wanted to work in the soup plant or the quilt room for their 4 1/2 days there (who can blame them? that’s why we came too!). Our guys knew that we would be there longer, so they would have the opportunity to get to check out the soup plant later, so they stepped up and volunteered to help out with lawns.
God really blessed them for doing that; they got along so well with Randy, the groundskeeper, and loved working with him (and I think that Randy was tickled that the guys already knew their way around mowers and weed-eaters. lol.). They had some great conversations, and Randy was so encouraging to my guys.
The second week that we were there, the boys volunteered to help Randy out before volunteers were even asked for, and when he ran out of work for them, then they went to the soup plant to help out.
Emma found the quilt room, and she hung out there the second week.
The quilt room is just that – a room where quilts are made. People send their cotton fabrics (lengths or 12″ squares) to Gleanings, where they are made into quilts. The quilts are then shipped overseas with the food. Most quilts go to Isreal, where there are still around 200,000 holocaust survivors, many who are very poor and living in government housing, most can no longer work due to age.
Some volunteers, who would like to be part of the ministry, but cannot travel to gleanings themselves, send in ready made quilt tops that are then finished off in the quilt room, but the majority of them are pieced, stitched, and tied in the quilt room.Emma found fast friends in one of the families and she and one of the girls, Beth, were inseparable; they had the best time designing quilts and gabbing with the ladies in the quilt room.
Beth’s siblings, Mandy and Nick, were just as charming, and the kids all became fast friends and hung out (and goofed off) together all week. They told us where they live (bwahaha!), and we hope to visit them next year on our way south!
During our 2 and a half weeks that we were there, we met the most incredible people! We are always a bit apprehensive when we pull into a new campground – what if our neighbors hate kids, what if we are too loud, what if they just don’t want neighbors??? And here we were, in the RV sites, parked right next to 3 retired couples. Poor things!
We adopted all 3 couples, whether they liked it or not! lol. Barb and David, Laverne and Bob, and Gail and Erwin, were all so incredibly sweet!!! We are really hoping to volunteer with them again!
The first week we were there, the older boys made friends with some great guys from San Francisco – other guys with the same interests. These guys (kids 😉 ) have been coming to Gleanings to volunteer for 10 years! We already know which week they will be here in 2015, so Jake has it on the calender, and the boys have requested to return to Gleanings to volunteer then also. lol.
Our family made fast friends while we were here; I seldom saw my kids (which if you know me is a little out of my comfort zone, but it was good)! lol.
This is what they looked like… (see ya mom!)
Really, Gleanings is it’s own little community! The younger kids made friends with some of the staff kids, and they would play non-stop for hours and hours! There was a playground…
and the bigger kids would be watching out for the youngers from the street (private) right next to it (all the kids watched out for all the others – it was so sweet!).
All of our RV neighbors, and many of the staff, are from Canada. So hockey is big here, eh? Two of the boys taught Emma how to play street hockey, and how to be a goalie, and she looked like this every day. Every day.
Gleanings is a great place for families to be able to volunteer; it is also incredibly popular. Volunteer groups who need multiple dorm rooms to house their volunteers often have to schedule their visit up to 18 months in advance. If it’s a family who only needs one room, then it’s easier to get in, without such a long wait. And if you tote your house along with you, the wait is even shorter, or maybe not all all.
(Molly helping to clean up after a day of packing in the soup plant)
We scheduled our visit 2 weeks ahead of time, and while we were not sure what we were getting into, Gleanings wasn’t sure what they were getting with us! lol.
But it’s funny how things just seem to ‘work out’. My boys are mud monkeys in the summer (they pour a.lot. of concrete). And when we arrived at Gleanings, they were just getting ready to form, grade, and pour a basketball court!
So my guys got to help out with some mud on the road!
The guys all poured the basketball court in 2 days, back to back…
Love me some boys that know how to work.
Want to know more about Gleanings?
*Gleanings is a fabulous place for families to volunteer as a unit! Even the younger kids are welcome to help with age appropriate chores!
*3 meals a day, plus a morning and afternoon snack are provided.
*Since Gleanings does not sell any product or turn an income, there is a suggested donation of $100/adult/week to help cover food and housing costs. Even the staff here are self-supported.
*There are public restrooms, and laundry is $1/load.
*Mondays are Mission Night – after dinner there is an optional program where a speaker comes to share about a mission field (usually one they have been to). (my recommendation is to take advantage of all the experiences Gleanings offers while you are there!)
*Tuesday nights offer another time of fellowship including a special meal, followed by a fun program and a silent auction to help the students raise money for their Discipleship Training School trips.(and yes, I absolutely did win that jar of peach habanero jam!)
*Gleanings will try to place you in a volunteer position that matches your skills and/or interests, but that is not always possible, so you need to go with a servant’s heart and be willing to work where help is needed (I volunteered to work in the kitchen for lunches while we were there – not my first choice since, with 8 kids still at home, I already live in the kitchen, but it was fun and I met some fabulously sweet ladies!).
*Because Gleanings’ volunteer positions are in such high demand, it is prudent to book your time there as early as possible. Be sure to fill out the necessary forms, which you can find here.
*January through April are their busiest months, and this is the time it is hardest to try to volunteer on short notice.
*Gleanings has campus/hotel-like housing for approx. 50 volunteers, as well as 19 RV sites.
You can also learn more about their campus and their ministry on their website at Gleanings.org.
Volunteering at Gleanings, as a family, was a great experience. If you would like to know why we volunteer on the road, you can learn about it here, and if you’d like to read about our first YWAM volunteering stint, with YWAM Salem, you can find it here.
If we can do it, so can you! Find a passion, and follow it; it’ll enrich your life beyond what you can imagine!