On Friday morning, students from on-campus Lutheran Episcopal ministry the Table packed into Pastor Laura Sinche’s car and drove down to Gather Baltimore’s Sisson Street warehouse.
Gather Baltimore is a volunteer-based food pantry that collects surplus produce and sells them by the $7 bagful to Baltimore residents who couldn’t otherwise afford healthy food.
Sinche wanted her students to experience Gather Baltimore because the Table is named for Jesus feeding others around the table. She also hoped they would feel the sense of community that stems from volunteer work.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the city that are passionate about food justice issues, that are passionate about reuse, that I’ve gotten to meet here,” Sinche said. “And when you’re packaging potatoes and sorting through peppers and everything like that, conversation happens and community happens and I just think it’s beautiful.”
Gather Baltimore volunteer Inez Craddock has worked at the pantry for two years and says the customers are what keep her coming back to work every weekend.
“Gather Baltimore has been a godsend to so many people,” Craddock said. “There was a lady that was going to Sam’s grocery store…and she has 11 children. And she said her food bill was almost $2,000, $3,000 a month. And someone told her about Gather Baltimore…And [now] this lady comes every week and buys four bags of food. And she says the food lasts her weekly, and she’s not spending as much money.”
Friday morning at the warehouse started off slowly. Volunteers waited for truckloads full of food to arrive and about 10 customers were told to come back later. But Sinche’s students still plan on volunteering throughout the year.
Haley Moreau, a sophomore forensic chemistry major, was a Girl Scout from age five to her senior year of high school.
“Volunteer work was the backbone of everything I did growing up,” Moreau said, although this was her first time directly working in a food pantry.
“I feel like we’re doing good work here,” sophomore theatre studies major Alex Harrington said.
According to the pantry’s website, as of 2015, one out of every four Baltimore individuals live in a “food desert,” an area where affordable, healthy food is difficult to obtain. Through their pantry and community gardens in east Baltimore and the Harford Road area, Gather Baltimore hopes to provide accessible, nutritious food to people living in food desert regions.
“I really love Gather Baltimore. I think it’s a worthwhile program,” Craddock said. “And I think that anybody that can come and see what we do, they will be totally amazed. Because you can not go anywhere in this city and get what we put in those bags. We make sure that you have potatoes, onions, green peppers, lettuce, carrots, corn, bananas…”
Many of the fruits and vegetables that Gather Baltimore provides have come from gleaning, where volunteers collect leftover crops on farmers’ fields after their harvest. The rest of the food comes from the Sunday night leftovers of local farmers markets, and from a warehouse of unsold produce in Jessup, Maryland.
In addition to providing Baltimore residents with fresh produce, Gather Baltimore also hopes to reduce food waste in a country where 40 percent of food doesn’t get eaten.
“I’m somebody that’s passionate about reclaiming things that were going to be thrown away and kind of rescuing what would just be wasted otherwise,” Sinche said. “It’s pretty awesome that they take food that just would have rotted and they actually use it to feed people with healthy food, not processed stuff.”
Craddock hopes the pantry will see an increase in volunteers and in customers in the coming years.
“It’s only $7, but some people don’t even have $7,” Craddock said. “Some people get food stamps, and they do have children and it’s just not enough. But if they actually knew about [this] program, and the word gets out…We would do more bags, we do maybe 75 upwards on a daily basis.”
Volunteers are welcome to collect produce every Sunday at the Baltimore Farmers Market and Bazaar and to sort produce at the Sisson Street warehouse Thursday-Sunday. To sign up or find out more, contact Gather Baltimore at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-541-6166.