By Julie Cole
"Waste not, want not,” is a principle that Shelley Stone lives by – and it’s saving people’s lives.
Stone is the director of Ontario Christian Gleaners (OCG), a charitable organization in Cambridge, Ont. that gathers donated surplus produce and uses the help of hundreds of volunteers to clean, dice, dry, mix and bag the vegetables into a nutritious soup mix that’s ready for distribution to various overseas relief organizations.
“We do (also) dry apples and pears and they are a sweet treat given to kids by the handful,” Stone said.
The practice of gleaning isn’t new – it’s been around for centuries – but there aren’t many organizations doing it.
“(Besides OCG) there are two (gleaning organizations) in B.C.,” Stone said. “That’s it for Canada.”
Stone first heard about OCG about three years ago, just as it was ready to begin operations.
“There was a team of people who worked together for a little over four years to make this concept become a reality,” Stone explained. “I kind of liken myself to a midwife because I came there right at the birth of the organization – so I didn’t do any of the hard labour.”
To date, OCG has been able to send its dried soup mix to 30 countries around the world.
“We are really all about missions,” Stone exclaimed.
She credits a lot of her interest in missions to Briercrest College and Seminary.
“My heart for missions really started in my local church,” Stone reflected. “But when I went to Briercrest and learned about so many missions organizations . . . the whole emphasis on missions really intrigued me.”
Early in her own mission career the Briercrest alum worked at the Scott Mission in downtown Toronto.
“I distinctly remember serving Christmas dinner to a group of women who were very poor,” Stone said. “At the end of the meal I watched them as they pulled plastic bags out of their purse and scooped all the leftovers – gravy, mashed potatoes, peas – whatever off of anybody’s plate and put it in a bag to take it home to make soup for their family. It was a real eye-opener for me.”
Stone marvels at how God wove her education and mission work together into a “beautiful tapestry” that prepared her for her current assignment.
“I’m wired for people naturally . . . but more than love people there are certain skills and things that are acquired,” Stone reflected. “Those things – empowering people and recognizing their giftedness – are all important to do the job well and flourish.”
Stone is the only full-time employee of OCG. The organization recently hired two half-time employees.
“One works as my assistant and primarily gives tours, including all the new people and groups that come to work,” Stone said. “Then we have a second person who looks after the building and all the equipment-sorts of things. Other than that there are hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that work with us, and there’s a huge network that comes out from what we do here.”
Stone counts that networking of volunteers as a huge bonus to her work at OCG.
“My experience at Briercrest was very interdenominational,” she said. “I have an appreciation for Christians working together shoulder to shoulder on a common goal. I think it draws attention from the community to see Christians working together and doing the right thing.”
The network of volunteers at OCG is broad.
“I would say on any given day we have 15 different denominations (working) here,” Stone explained. “Presbyterians, United Church, Amish, Reformed, Missionary Church and Mennonites . . . We draw from at least a 45 minute radius from our building. We pull people in from different geographical communities.”
Stone uses her people skills to keep masses of volunteers motivated about the work they are doing.
“I try to keep in the forefront ‘This is where our soup has gone,’” Stone exclaimed. “We do require people (who have received the soup mix) to report back to us with pictures and stories. I try to encourage that to happen live (via Internet) as much as possible. We take a coffee break every morning at 10 o’clock. We now have a big-screen TV. We upload those pictures into the big screen. Some people send a thank-you note in the form of a short video which is quite powerful.”
Stone struggles to isolate a favourite story of how the soup mix has helped others.
“We are committed to be involved in relief as well as development,” Stone explained. “In terms of relief, in 2010 we were able to send 2.2 milllion servings of soup to Haiti to help with relief after the earthquake. We heard numerous stories and received amazing pictures out of Haiti.”
In the area of development, Stone’s favourite story comes from Malawi. The soup mix was shipped inside an ambulance that a missions organization was shipping to the country.
“Some people with Men for Missions filled up the ambulance with pails and drums of soup,” Stone said. “They were looking to build a fish farm. Now the fish farm is set up and they are (working on) a hydroponic vegetable grow operation. They don’t need our soup anymore. They are now self-sufficient. They are good to go.”
Stories like this fuel Stone and her volunteers to keep up the good work of gleaning.
“This year we anticipate producing five million servings of soup,” Stone said. “We need tons (and truckloads) of protein to add to our dried vegetables for the soup.”
In order to do this, Stone has to constantly be on the lookout for the vegetables she needs. OCG currently needs some produce items that specifically grow in the Prairie provinces.
“One area that we are in need of is lentils, split peas and naked oats – all grown in the mid-west – to add to our soup as a source of protein,” she said. “As a registered charity, we can provide a tax receipt for the donation.”
More information can be found at OCG’s website: ontariogleaners.org.