I enjoyed Sheila Hagar's excellent article detailing the gleaning of fields by Valley residents to benefit the needy. Sheila notes that people have provided gleaned food to the underprivileged for thousands of years, but I wonder if your readers are aware that similar benevolent activity occurred here in the Valley almost 80 years ago.
Reviewing Walla Walla Unions from 1931 for a local history project, I was fascinated to learn some of the ways in which local residents united to support each other during this early period of the Depression -- including performing charitable activities that are today being carried out by the Walla Walla Gleaners.
Walla Walla's stated 10 percent unemployment in 1931 was lower than much of the nation (Sept. 11, 1931), but jobless, hungry people nonetheless trolled the city's homes, looking for handouts. Fortunately, this was a fine year for the Valley's agriculture, with abundant crops of wheat, prunes and apples, among other produce.
An editorial in the Aug. 9, 1931, issue of the Union promoted the saving of surplus food for the needy rather than throwing it away, and citizens subsequently met with Mayor Dorsey Hill to plan a "'preparedness program' for winter relief" (Sept. 9, 1931). With the expressed goal of reducing transients' begging at back doors, it was suggested that residents preserve extra food when they canned their own, donating the excess to local aid organizations.
Soon, reminiscent of the activities of the modern-day Walla Walla Gleaners, men volunteered to pick pears from an unharvested tree to donate to the needy (Sept. 13, 1931), starting a month-long stint of harried harvesting and charitable canning.
A diverse assortment of community members assisted in these altruistic efforts. Private citizens donated canned and fresh fruit, including apples and squash, to feed the hungry. Camp Fire girls canvassed the city for comestible donations, while Boy Scouts and unemployed men volunteered to pick fruit, with the yield then being preserved in the Washington State Penitentiary's cannery.
Several area mills offered to grind and donate flour for bread to benefit the efforts, while other firms provided trucks for transport and facilities for storage of bread and other foodstuffs.
The Gleaners' commendable efforts, following in the footsteps of their Depression-era counterparts, have inspired me to seek ways in which I can assist those in need. I urge everyone to find some way they can donate time, money or goods to help those less fortunate.