Sally Thompson, Devoted Volunteer (in light blue shirt, above)
For Sally Thompson, the Boston Area Gleaners popped up on her radar at just the right moment. About to retire, the Acton resident, now 66, was looking about for meaningful volunteer opportunities she could pursue when her time became her own.
Thompson’s spouse happened to visit the Wayland Winter Market one day in early 2016 where an enthusiastic BAG representative was handing out brochures and telling passers-by about all the good work the organization does. When the information made it home to Thompson, she knew she had found a new calling.
“I had grown up on a farm and had memories of the fun, the challenges, and the importance of growing crops to feed people,” said Thompson. “I also was retiring from a long career as a physician with an awareness of the importance of healthy food and a healthy environment to reduce the risk of medical illness.”
BAG’s mission spoke to her: Thompson, who is also a volunteer staffer at a food pantry in a neighboring town, was keen on the idea of rescuing surplus crops so they could be used to help those in need. Soon, she was joining gleaning trips, donating money, and volunteering in other ways, too. At the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, for instance, she helped staff a BAG table, and whenever she can, Thompson spreads the word.
“I talk about gleaning when I am in social settings to increase interest and perhaps volunteers,” she said.
And after listening to Thompson, who wouldn’t want to go on a gleaning trip?
“The experience is lovely,” she said, “whether picking apples in an orchard on a beautiful late summer day, picking sweet corn standing in long rows, cutting chard and kale kneeling in a field of greens, or picking tomatoes off their fragrant vines.”
For those who might worry about the work being too hard, don’t fret. “It can be physically challenging, but staff lean in to make the trip fit your ability,” said Thompson. “It is physically rewarding to glean. The physical nature of each trip differs. I see a gleaning trip as an opportunity to be physically active.”
The camaraderie and knowledge-sharing are additional bonuses, added Thompson. “I have met wonderful people while gleaning,” she said. “Retired professors who can speak very knowledgeably about many subjects. Other physicians with whom I can feel connection. Engineers are always fun. Teenagers meeting high school community service requirements provide their insights and energy.”
Gleaning organizations like BAG should be encouraged nationwide, said Thompson. “Knowing that I am participating in a process that reduces food waste between the farmers' fields and those in need is immensely fulfilling,” she said. “As a physician I am aware of the value of fresh vegetables and fruits to good health. In my retirement I feel I can continue my career-long mission to help those in need and improve their health. In fact, I feel I am helping large numbers of people rather than one person at a time.”