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  • AUTUMN CRUZ / acruz@sacbee.com

    Senior Gleaners volunteers Shirley Elwell of Orangevale, left, and Bob Davidson of Sacramento use forklifts to move food at the organization's warehouse in North Sacramento. The volunteers who deliver the bounty to the region's food banks often have inadequate protection from winter's rain and cold. The organization is seeking $2,000 to buy ponchos and gloves.

  • AUTUMN CRUZ / acruz@sacbee.com

    Volunteer Clay Leeper of Sacramento loads up bread last week for delivery to food banks in the area. Senior Gleaners volunteers, with an average age in the mid-70s, distribute 9 million pounds of food each year.

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Hardy Senior Gleaners need winter gear

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 - 7:10 pm

Before dawn six days each week, volunteers from Senior Gleaners head out from the nonprofit's North Sacramento warehouse in trucks assigned to collect donated food at the region's grocery stores or to take crews to harvest crops left over in fields and orchards.

In the winter, the volunteers – average age in their mid-70s, although more than a dozen longtime workers are in their 90s – brave the elements as best they can.

"You see older people getting sick," said Chris Silva, 60, Senior Gleaners board chairman. "It'll be pouring down rain, and I'm waiting at the dock for a truck. And a gentleman of 72 hops out, and he unloads the truck soaking wet. He's shivering. They try to tough it out.

"They've learned how to deal with the elements. They cover their heads with caps made of plastic bags."

But they shouldn't have to do that.

Each year, the 35-year-old program and its 600 senior volunteers distribute 9 million pounds of food to food banks throughout the region, helping feed a growing population of the hungry.

"We're out picking persimmons today," said Cleo Downs, 80, the program's farm program coordinator. "We'll pick more than 640 pounds today."

That's a lot of persimmons.

"We get several thousand pounds of produce every week," he said.

Senior Gleaners is requesting funds for heavy-duty ponchos and work gloves to help keep their volunteers warm and dry while they work on the trucks and the warehouse docks this rainy season.

Six truck crews consisting of three people each go out to collect donations six days a week, said Pat Hudgens, transportation manager and former Gleaners president.

The weather doesn't stop them.

"We go out in the rain," Silva said. "We're going. The need doesn't wait. Somebody's got to eat.

"Ten years ago, the people in the food line were the elderly on fixed incomes and the homeless. Today, it's you and your husband and your children.

"They're going through food lines to make ends meet. They work, but their money doesn't go far enough.

"From one tree to the whole orchard, from one grocery cart of food to the whole store, if we don't collect it and distribute it, those children will go hungry."

Needed: Heavy-duty ponchos and gloves for Senior Gleaners volunteers.

Total: $2,000

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