The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners ready to ramp-up production

The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners, based in Leamington, resumed production on Wednesday.

About 30 volunteers were allowed back inside to continue packaging donated dehydrated food, destined to those less fortunate.

“We would love to have people join for sure,” Joel Epp, general manager says.

Epp says the non-profit organization had to close its doors to volunteers last December when Windsor-Essex went into the Grey level of lockdown.

“Most of our volunteers are over 70 for sure, and we just felt that that was the safest thing to do,” he says.

Starting Wednesday, two shifts, five days a week have resumed.

“Right now with COVID, we are limiting shifts to a maximum with 15 (volunteers) per shift, but we still have room to add more,” Epp says.

The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners take donated, non-marketable produce from area farmers and convert it into lightweight, dried food.

Epp tells CTV News demand for dehydrated food products is up worldwide due to the pandemic.

“The last couple of years, we’ve been just over 3 million servings per year,” he says. “We feel we can grow that, we’re hoping to get to 5 million once the pandemic is over.”

Volunteers like Carmelle Girard say they’re glad to be back, noting the work is rewarding.

On the first day back, the group packaged apple snacks that were produced in November and December, and processed a donation of frozen mixed vegetables.

“Because you’re helping somebody that's less fortunate, right? We have an abundance here and we can share it with somebody else, you know? You leave feeling, it’s good,” Girard says.

A partnership with Loads of Love based in Chatham, will see the packaged food delivered to Liberia next week.

Anyone wishing to volunteer is encouraged to reach out online via Facebook, email, or just show up at the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners headquarters at 40 Industrial Road in Leamington.