Volunteers Count: Dynamic duo helps feed those in need by harvesting produce with Fields of Grace
PASCO, Wash. — KAPP-KVEW Local News and STCU have teamed up to highlight those in our community who are making our world a better place. This month’s Volunteers Count winners are a dynamic duo from Fields of Grace, Rob Koenig and Larry Elliott. They both have been volunteering since the nonprofit began.
STCU surprised Koenig and Elliott with a $1,000 donation to the organization in their name in honor of their commitment to those in need.
“Your story rose to the top, and everyone voted for you guys and the work you do with Fields of Grace,” said Elizabeth Burtner, the Community Development Manager at STCU, as she presented the check to the two volunteers.
“I did it to feed needy people. There are a lot of needy people, and we pick lots and lots of pounds of fruit, produce, and vegetables every year. It all went to feed needy people. None of it was sold; none of it was given to families because they wanted it. It all went to food banks,” said Larry Elliott, who was recently named the Spiritual Advisor for Fields of Grace.
VOLUNTEERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
“Fields of Grace has been a well-kept secret in the Tri-Cities,” said the Fields of Grace Executive Director, Lisa Williams. The program has been around since 2006, with both Koenig and Elliott joining in the first few years.
Last year alone, through the volunteers, the nonprofit took in more than 130,000 pounds of produce to give to food distribution systems, mainly food banks.
“The crops that we get the gleaning from is from farmers that have excess, farmers that have crops that maybe are damaged and can’t sell them, or there is not a market for them, so they invite us in. And then homeowners with a tree or two that produces more than they can use,” said Williams.
Gleaning comes from a biblical term that means to collect leftover crops to give to those in need.
“Rob Koenig was the brains behind my involvement in this. Without Rob, there would have been very little gleaned,” said Elliott.
Koenig is the Residential Coordinator for Fields of Grace, focusing on individual gardens or a single tree in someone’s back yard. He checks to make sure they are sprayed, ripe, and ready to be picked before sending a team out.
“Rob is a wealth of experience. He can look at a tree and guess how many pounds of fruit they will get off that tree and how many crates and volunteers we need to get that done in an hour. He’s just a treasure. Rob and Larry working together are just a joy, and they radiate what Fields of Grace is all about,” Williams said.
When Koenig first joined the volunteer team, he said the first residential tree he ever gleaned was a little grapevine in South Kennewick. During that time, he would ride his bike around the neighborhoods knocking on doors and asking people if they were interested in donating vegetables or fruits from their trees or gardens for those in need.
Elliott was skilled at driving a truck and used his pick-up and trailer for deliveries. Both of them worked seamlessly as a team, and through volunteering, the bond between Koenig and Elliott has grown.
“You know Larry’s been through some tough things. He lost his wife a few years ago, and just to see Rob come alongside him and be a friend in his tough times, they are just there for each other,” said Luke Hallowell, the former Program Coordinator for Fields of Grace, who nominated the two men for the award.
“They work very well together, and they are very welcoming to new volunteers showing them the ropes and creating a sense of community within the volunteers too,” said Williams.
“The principle that drove me to do that for ten years is in the bible. There’s a verse Mathew 25:40: Jesus said if you do it to the least of these, you’ve done it onto me,” said Elliott.
“There are people like Larry who, rather than give for a need; they need to give. When you meet someone like that, it’s hard not to say you want to hang around them. If you want to be a better tennis player, you hang out with better tennis players. If you want a grateful heart, hang around someone who has a grateful heart,” said Koenig.
VOLUNTEER FOR FIELDS OF GRACE
Fields of Grace is currently looking for more volunteers. Williams said their youngest volunteer was two-years-old and their oldest comes with a walker.
There are opportunities to give back for all ages, whether sitting in a chair and helping pick fruit off a stem or climbing up a ladder and hauling buckets of produce to the truck.
Koenig said this organization is an excellent way for people to give back. He said his favorite thing is to pick produce right off the vine and have it delivered to the food banks the same day.
Last year Koenig said they picked about 25,000 pounds of fresh peaches. “So when we get peaches and give them to a food bank that can start passing them out that afternoon. That does make you feel good. This is a really good product that is passed out to people, the privileged of us, and I am very privileged; I can’t get that. I can go to the store, and I can’t get that. That does make you feel good when you can give really healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Koenig.
Williams said the produce reaches food banks and food distribution agencies like Salvation Army, Mirror Ministries, Gospel Mission, My Friends Place, and any other locations that can use produce for those in need.
According to Fields of Grace, farmers who provide crops for gleaning may get a tax benefit as Second Harvest will send a receipt for the produce gleaned. Fields of Grace has harvested everything from apples, sweet cherries, carrots, potatoes, apricots, corn, along with plums, tomatoes, and grapes from residential sites.
Thank you to Collegium Cafe: Cafe with a Purpose for allowing the KAPP-KVEW News Team to film Volunteers Count. The Collegium Cafe is a favorite of the Fields of Grace volunteers and a meeting place for when they harvest onions. “The Café provides a nurturing gathering space to cultivate relationships while hosting a workforce readiness program for those seeking a second chance,” according to the founders.
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