History of Senior Gleaners of San Diego County

Senior Gleaners of San Diego County was officially organized on June 16, 1992, as the result of a dream by three men, Laurel Gray, a retired Lutheran minister and two farmers, Dene Hatch and George Norton. The three of them were riding in a pickup truck in N. County and noticed fields of unpicked crops that were going to waste while many San Diegeans were going hungry. The three of them decided to do something about it, modeling their idea from a program called "Senior Gleaners" in Sacramento, an organization that the two farmers were familiar with.

At first the organization was very small but with the addition of volunteer Ann Evans in 1993 the group began to grow. In that year Gleaners were picking and distributing 25,000 pounds of food per month. Meanwhile, as expenses began to exceed income, Senior Gleaners of San Diego County became the recipient of a $200,000 grant from a North County dairyman, Evert J. Allen who retired and died on March 18, 1996. The proposal, written by board chairman Laurel Gray, was competing with similar proposals from much larger non-profits which all had paid staff. But Senior Gleaners of S.D. County received the grant largely because, in the words of the granter, "Gleaners of San Diego County had no paid staff." Because of that grant, and many other smaller grants and volunteer contributions, the organization has continued to grow.

Today, the Gleaners have picked and distributed as much as 400,000 pounds of food in one year. This has meant helping feed more than 5,000 hungry persons per year. According to figures gathered by the San Diego Food Bank, 483,000 people (out of a county population of 3.1 million) live at or near the federal poverty line, and 273,000 of these are children. This, in spite of the fact, that more food is wasted each year in San Diego County than is actually utilized. Gleaners could pick and distribute twice as much food if they had enough volunteers. At present about 40 volunteers do the work of picking, sorting and delivering the food to about a dozen agencies in the county. These agencies include Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Service Center, Consider the Poor, Community Christian Service Agency, Interfaith Community Services, Lakeside Christian Helps Center and a few others.

These agencies give out the food to the poor based on federal poverty guidelines. In spite of all this activity, most agencies run out of food to distribute to the hungry by the third week of the month. So the demand for food in San Diego County continues to exceed the supply, even as much food is wasted. San Diego Food Bank has undertaken a county wide effort to salvage much of the food that has been wasted in the past. Gleaners continues to need more volunteers and board members and van-drivers as well as financial support.

Senior Gleaners can be contacted at:

Phone: 619 633-9180
E-mail: SDGleaners@aol.com
Web site: www.seniorgleanerssdco.org

Laurel Gray
Founder and President 1992-2016
Board Member 2017-2020

Read a tribute to Laurel written on the occasion of his retirement from the board in 2020.