The organization prepares more than half a million servings of soup mix to help feed Ukrainian refugees

Gleaners in southwestern Ontario are preparing more than half a million servings of dehydrated soup mix to send to Ukrainians in need.

Volunteers have already processed and packed more than that amount since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February.

“It affects a lot of people,” said Joel Epp, general manager of the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners. “For some of us, our ancestors, grandparents, great-grandparents came from Ukraine, myself included.”

A sold-out benefit luncheon for the SWO Gleaners was held at the Roma Club in Leamington on Tuesday with over 500 tickets sold.

Epp said proceeds will go to their Ukrainian efforts.

“We want to help where we can,” he said.

The Leamington-based organization partnered with Loads of Love in Chatham to send the dry mix to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Treasurer Tina Quiring explained that Tuesday’s “lunch for all” was the first in-person fundraiser for the charity group since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big celebration for us because we weren’t able to have a fundraiser during COVID and so our volunteers kept coming, the companies kept supporting us and so thank God we were finally able to get together and it’s really a celebration,” she said.

Quiring said millions of pounds of produce that would otherwise go to waste are instead processed daily by volunteers for packaging and distribution around the world.

“It’s a win-win situation for our whole community,” she said. “It’s good for the environment. Every year we keep over a million pounds of product off the ground. It’s great for the environment and it strengthens the community.

Quiring added: “I am very happy and grateful. There are so many great people who have made the effort to come here and support us and we are truly grateful to the community.

Officials say volunteers are always welcome and a small shipment of dehydrated food will go out at the end of the month, before a large shipment leaves in July.