Southwestern Ontario Gleaners step up for holiday food drive supporting First Nations

A group of dedicated southern Ontario volunteers are stepping up in a big way, in support of CBC Thunder Bay's Sounds of the Season fundraiser.

Goal of CBC Thunder Bay's Sounds of the Season event is to fill 3 planes with food to send to the far north

The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners rely on volunteers to do the work needed to make the soup mix the organization sends to hungry people around the world. (CBC)

A group of dedicated southern Ontario volunteers are stepping up in a big way, in support of CBC Thunder Bay's Sounds of the Season fundraiser. 

The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners plan to send 250,000 servings of dried soup mix, along with pallets of fresh produce such as potatoes and carrots, to northwestern Ontario for the campaign, which aims to fill three planes with food, to be flown to communities in the far north on Dec. 15. 

"It'll be a 40,000 pound load, the load's probably worth about $30,000," said Vern Toews, the past chair and fundraising chair for the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners. 

"It's all donated."

The Southwestern Ontario Gleaners operate a volunteer-run factory in Leamington, Ont. They they take surplus produce that farmers can't sell to stores, and turn it into dehydrated soup mix to be donated to those in need. 

This isn't their first year helping out with the Sounds of the Season fundraiser, which is a partnership between CBC Thunder Bay, and the Thunder Bay-based Regional Food Distribution Association.

In 2016, the gleaners sent a huge load of food to be flown to Sandy Lake First Nation. 

This year's donation is even bigger, said Toews. 

The food is ready to go, and should arrive in Thunder Bay a few days before the Sounds of the Season event on Dec. 15. 

That's when CBC Thunder Bay will be hosting live broadcasts from the Thunder Bay International Airport, which is helping with the effort. 

Donated food, including the shipment from the Southwestern Ontario Gleaners, will be loaded into three planes donated by Wasaya Airways, North Star Air and Perimeter Aviation, before being flown to a number of First Nations communities. 

While the gleaners are more than happy to help with the effort, Toews said in the long term, they also have other ideas to help strengthen food security in the far north.

Toews, a retired greenhouse farmer, said at some point, he would like to help set up greenhouses in northern communities. 

"That would be my vision for the future," he said. "In the meantime we're going to help out as we can."