Turning Trash Into Treasure and Heartache Into Hope

by | Mar 2024

“I NEVER KNEW you did so much,” is a statement Jeane Smiley-Mason hears often as president and chief operating officer of Gleaning for the World. Founded in 1998 in Concord, Gleaning for the World has provided emergency help internationally to 78 countries and 38 states across our nation, plus Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. The aid distributed exceeds $725 million and includes a whopping 101 million pounds of “corporate surplus” previously earmarked for the landfill. The materials were repurposed, giving modern meaning to the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” 

“Items that are still useful but no longer desirable in our country could make a significant difference to someone in need,” said Smiley-Mason. “With that knowledge and passion, Gleaning for the World was birthed! As a result, this ministry has grown to include not only local partners but national and international partners as well.” 

Gleaning for the World steps in to help displaced families living in refugee camps or that have faced a natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, or devastating tornado. The organization provides resources to churches, stocks the shelves of food pantries, and provides supplies to long-term disaster recovery groups. 

“The in-kind donations Gleaning for the World accesses and then provides to partners is varied and can include items like medical supplies and durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, etc.; perishable and non-perishable food; personal care and hygiene supplies; household items; stuffed animals and toys; cloth feminine hygiene kits and much, much more! With a focus on in-kind donations, coupled with our years of experience in logistics, we can usually get humanitarian aid to most places in the world.” 

A network of faithful volunteers helps collect, sort, and pack supplies to be shipped nationally and internationally; others work in the sewing center to sew towels, washcloths, baby blankets, lap blankets, and assemble cloth feminine hygiene kits. Gleaning for the World estimates it receives donations of over 34,000 plush toys annually, which it rehomes through its Teddy Bear Brigade. 

“We hear stories about how stuffed animals provided to children living through a natural disaster or a war can light up faces and bring smiles. We know these ‘plushies’ bring comfort during troubled times and that a child intuitively reaches out to get his or her very own.” 

From day one, Smiley-Mason said the mission of Gleaning for the World has been to “share the love of God at home and around the world through the efficient delivery of high quality, life-saving supplies to victims of poverty and devastation by connecting corporate surplus to critical needs.” 

In 2005, Smiley-Mason came across an advertisement for a position of volunteer coordinator and was impressed with all that Gleaning for the World had accomplished, so she applied. Over the years, she’s worked faithfully in various positions, so in January 2018, after founder Ron Davidson retired, she stepped into her current position as president and chief operating officer. Davidson was a local pastor with a burden for those in need who learned about the retail surplus heading for the landfill and knew these items could make a significant impact all over the world. 

“Working at Gleaning for the World has greatly expanded my knowledge and awareness about the extreme difficulties individuals and families can face,” said Smiley-Mason. “It doesn’t matter where you live. Tragic events occur everywhere — both natural and man-made — which can leave behind victims whose lives are absolutely devastated and torn apart. 

“With so much information in the news every single day, tragic events can quickly fall from the headlines, yet there are those committed to seeing that help continues to get to those who are struggling and to those who are suffering. Partnering with Gleaning for the World is rewarding and brings ‘tangible hope’ along with ‘eternal hope’ to those in need.” 

Smiley-Mason said there’s a growing awareness of the increase of people all over the world who are suffering more than ever, and this brings a level of stress because the heart of Gleaning for the World is to quench these rising needs and concerns. With this in mind, the call for volunteers is also greater than ever and echoes across the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

“We love to give tours of our facility and to share some of the projects we are working on. Our experience is that when someone visits us in person or virtually, they might learn more than what they believe they know about us. Ron Davidson wrote a book titled ‘I Did It His Way,’ which is the story about how Gleaning for the World was founded. We’re happy to provide anyone interested in learning more a copy of this book, simply for the asking.” GN 

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