By Bobby Ross Jr.
The Associated Press
GOLDEN, Texas - Volunteers fanned across Texas farm fields to pick up sweet potatoes missed by mechanical harvesters, joining a national network to feed the poor with produce that might otherwise go to waste, from California oranges to Indiana beans and Florida squash.
In this rural community about 75 miles east of Dallas, the weekend effort is called the Texas Yam Jam.
"It's rewarding, it's a good gig, just to come out here and glean for the people who might not be able to eat if we hadn't actually done this," said Jay Wilbur, 43, from Panola, near the Louisiana state line.
The work is overseen by the Big Island, Va.-based Society of St. Andrew, an ecumenical organization with strong United Methodist ties. The ministry, in its 25th year, is named after the disciple who figured in the New Testament story of how Jesus Christ fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes.
The society estimates that over the past quarter-century, 250,000 volunteers have gleaned 461.5 million pounds of food that would have been dumped, plowed under or left to rot - but instead became 1.4 billion servings of food donated to the hungry.
"In the Old Testament, it talks about leaving the corners of your field for the ailing and the poor. We've just kind of taken that ancient biblical practice and modernized it," said Carol Breitinger, the society's spokeswoman.
This month, for example, Boy Scouts and other volunteers collected green beans from a northern Indiana field that a cannery had rejected because of frost. In Lake Park, Fla., along the Florida-Georgia line, a church group picked up bushels of leftover cucumbers and squash.
"Our food banks are screaming for fresh produce and this is actually about the least expensive way we can get fresh produce," said Randy Groce, 54, president of the Texas advisory board for the Society of St. Andrew.
Groce brought 900 orange mesh bags - each able to fit 50 pounds of sweet potatoes. Volunteers stuffed them with tens of thousands of roots as small as a thumb and as large as a submarine sandwich.
"Mom, what does a sweet potato look like?" inquired Eliza Allen, a 5-year-old in pigtails whose older sister, Jade, 8, skipped a soccer game for the Yam Jam.
"It's like a big potato that's orange," replied her mother, Andrea Allen, a member of the First United Methodist Church of Celina.
On the Net
Society of St. Andrew: www.endhunger.org
Blackwell revels in the hot seat
Edwards preaches to faithful
Levy vote puts in question Drake's long-term prognosis
Lawmakers get in position for leadership
Dems out to clinch the Jewish vote
Record high of 9 women hold governor's offices
Senate campaign heats up
Jefferson Co. Republicans won't use poll challengers
Butler County tax levies face a host of unknowns
N.Ky. a stronghold for Bush, poll says
Bush, Kerry hammer home themes
Ohio Supreme Court opponents disagree on revealing views
Math professor challenging county treasurer
Franklin voters consider merger
Election 2004 section
TOP LOCAL HEADLINES
Gun victim has Mount Adams apprehensive
Study confirms drop in number of birds
Low-income kids told to wait for flu shot
Pope to bless exhibit directors during audience
Volunteers gather missed crops to feed hungry
Local news briefs
Quality counts for levy leader
Northwest levy would target pay
Hip-hop back at XU for first time since '99
Middletown woman fills days with service
Friends, strangers gather to give hope to Madeira family
Volunteers resume search for missing man
Volunteers encouraged to pack care packages
GOOD THINGS HAPPENING
Award honors volunteers' efforts
Stanley Osgood Jr., youth sports booster