In 2019, Qynne McKibben, Julia McAloon, and the founder of Eugene Area Gleaners, Brandy Collier, tabled at the “Nature of Gratitude” gathering at Tsunami Bookstore. Brandy was invited onstage to speak for a few minutes. This is a sliver of Brandy’s “why” for starting and continuing with the group. For Brandy, it was an emotional experience, because it’s difficult to talk about some things, still, whose effects continue to ripple and affect her family’s everyday lives. Her presentation seems to have really resonated with people, so we’re posting it here for everyone to read. Everyone in the group is in the group for a variety of reasons. Whatever reasons those are, we have gratitude that the group is here. If this resonates with you and you would like to be a member too, let us know!

Hello! Thank you for having me. My name is Brandy Collier and I am one of the founders and current president of Eugene Area Gleaners. I am told I have five minutes so I will be brief in thanking all of you for coming out tonight and telling you more about the Eugene Area Gleaners. If you have a moment later on would you please stop by and say hi to myself, Qynne, or Julia — two of our amazing volunteers. Our group started in 2009 and has been going strong and growing exponentially ever since. We incorporated as an official nonprofit in 2015-16 and as of 6:55 p.m. last night we boast 891 registered members, many of whom are representative of entire families who have joined our group.

I want to open myself up and tell you more about me and why I started this group and why I continue to pour my heart, soul, and life energy into it. I started this with a group of two friends. We were all facing food insecurity and had little ones. The abundance of what we were able to glean just by knocking on doors and asking was so great, and our gratitude overflowed, so we shared. We shared opportunities and so the gleans we went on went to an email list, and then a proper listserv, then both the listserv and Facebook group. In 2011-12 I was (thankfully briefly) homeless with my small daughter. It happens in a flash. So many of us are only a paycheck away from it.

We were helped by many in our community, not really having much family to rely on. I am grateful for that help, but let me take a moment to quote Maya Angelou in all her glory, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” 

I can talk about the Nature of Gratitude, but for a moment, let me tell you about the Flavor of Gratitude. All I remember from our food pantry days is salt — they’ve gotten better, I can attest “thanks” to losing my job last December. I can tell you I remember the saltiness of gratitude that came from trying to find a meal for my child when she was small and we were struggling. I was grateful, but the tears a mother holds back from that need flavors that gratitude. What I mostly remember was the ladies at the food pantry deciding what me and my autistic child would be grateful to receive and eat, looking at me warily as they packed us a box of salty canned goods. I remember the salt on the broken box of crackers, giving B the whole ones, telling her my favorite crackers were the crumbs and seasonings. And rarely, if ever, was there fresh fruit to be had or anything not mired in salt.

Gratitude tasted bitter when I felt someone patting themselves on the back for being kind or even simply decent and acknowledging me. So many volunteer organizations are about the feel-good of the volunteers and don’t give much mind to the people they are helping. Appreciation sat on my tongue like Ibuprofen waiting for water. There was bitter, dry sadness that enveloped us waiting in housing lines and food lines and feeling this weird, visceral sadness in hoping our situation was bad enough, urgent enough, maybe more urgent even than another Mama-with-child, that our names would come up next on a list. It’s a mucky, bitter taste seeking shelter, knowing that wait lists are long, wondering what’s next. Bitterness is the taste of feeling like a failure as a parent, as a human, not being able to do for yourself or your kid and having to choke out Gratitude.

Temper those, then, with the taste you remember from having been given an opportunity, a chance to earn and do for yourself, to simply bask in the gratitude of receiving and sitting in the moment without *owing* gratitude. I don’t know what it is, but gratitude is so much easier to give and pass on when it comes from that sweet place, when you feel in your chest that swelling, knowing that this thing came from your efforts, or that you deserved or earned what was received. The Nature of that Gratitude is sweet, refreshing, filling, energizing. It’s the freshness of a summer orchard, reaching up to pick for yourself what’s yours. It’s abundance in learning to can, to store, to save, to be prepared and be able to pass that on. It’s a gift you can have and hold and share, but even in that sharing it doesn’t leave you.

The Nature of Gratitude can be fleeting. People remember you when you do things for them, but soon forget when the deed is done. When you do things WITH them, they are more likely to connect with you as a person and consider you part of their community. Each member having the opportunity to be of service, and being part of community, is what makes Eugene Area Gleaners so very special.

I’m biased, of course, this group is my baby, but truly, we serve a unique and precious niche here in Eugene.

Eugene Area Gleaners is a true grassroots organization. Though it is our hope to someday grow and develop a co-op arm that will have paid staff, and provide much-needed jobs to the area. For right now, we are entirely volunteer-run. Not one person makes a penny off of our group. It is designed that way and I intend with every breath to keep it that way. I’m not against folks making money by any means. But I have seen that when an organization, nonprofit or otherwise, starts being about the bottom-line for survival; it’s faultless — but the heart seems to get lost chasing the almighty Dollar.

The heart of who we are, and what we do, is connecting local families to food resources. We take calls, emails, and other messages for gleans, set them up through our organization to be led by a trained Glean Leader, organize the crew, record the information we need to maintain our nonprofit status. Our organization also accepts donations from a couple of local area businesses and maintains drop-sites throughout town for members to partake. We glean anything and everything we are offered that has to do with food (fruit and vegetables, bread, meat, eggs, milk); storage (jars); preservation, growing (seeds, dirt, planters). We do our best to figure out what the laws and regulations are, not having access to a nonprofit attorney due to cost constraints, and our Board being filled with community members doing our best to figure it out as we go along.

I was asked to speak of our needs to this community. Money for the co-op arm we hope to start would be amazing. Gleaning equipment, library equipment would be wonderful, but mostly we are in need of time and care. We have Board and regular volunteer openings, we are in need of Glean Leaders willing to lead.. Bottom to top we are in need of volunteer time and care.

We have very few requirements to be part of our group. Although we are classified as food rescue and have the drop-sites, we are not a food box site or a food pantry. I celebrate and respect people who give of themselves and their resources to the less fortunate, but for me I find it creates a kind of power disparity… We’ve heard about Savior syndrome, and it’s great for a short-term fix, but what we’re focusing on here is community-building. We require that volunteers who are partaking from what our group has to offer, find some way to contribute to it, to truly be a part of it. We are giving them agency, empowerment, a chance to put something on their resume, a chance to earn what they receive and not be a “beneficiary” but a driving source of what makes our non profit what it is. 

Not every member gives the same way that others do, and they don’t have to. Our goal is for the ‘giving’ to be fluid, so that our members truly enjoy the volunteer work that is available to them; to find something to help with that benefits our group as well as fuels their passions. For some, it is printing flyers, or simply spreading the word. To some it is free, as they pay nothing for it…..  Others see it as an expenditure of their talents, fuel, energy and time away from their families that they are donating to our community. As long as they are contributing monthly in whatever meaningful way is available to them, it counts for something for us. And there is always more than enough that needs done in running a nonprofit, believe me!

We have members who are neurodiverse, who experience mental health glitches, who struggle with addiction issues, homelessness, food insecurity, who have physical limitations and sometimes just a different set of gifts in their toolbox. We have members of every socioeconomic status, we have neither income requirements nor restrictions — if a person wants to glean and join and help the community they are WELCOME. We have conservatives out picking apples with liberals and centrists. They are WELCOME. We have members of many different races, ethnicities, world languages, belief systems. We keep our conversation about the group, about our community, about our goals and our tasks at hand to make sure we create and espouse an environment where all are WELCOME. It’s the best part of all of us and leaving the rest at home to build community, feed ourselves, feed our neighbors, and just feel the sweetness and Gratitude in Welcome.