Christy Porter, 52
Coachella Valley, Calif.

Christy Porter was building a garden at a school in rural Southern California when a father presented her with a painful paradox: A farm worker, he harvested lettuce and beans and corn but couldn't bring home what was left on the ground to feed his own family. "He was desperate," says Porter, a hunger advocate. "I saw an opportunity."

What she did was revive a practice that dates back to ancient times. With the cooperation of farm owners, she began to organize workers to glean, or collect imperfect or surplus vegetables left behind after the harvest, to feed their own and other hungry families; they also ask homeowners to donate fallen fruit from their yards. Her nonprofit Hidden Harvest, started in 2002, each month reaps about 80,000 lbs. of produce, distributed locally to 25,000 families. Says Susan Weisbart, a local municipal analyst: "Christy allows poor people to help others and themselves."

Raising money from companies and private donations, Porter pays workers $10 an hour, plus all the produce they want. Unable to afford produce in the supermarket, Claris Cruz, a mom of three who lives in Mecca, relies on gleaned vegetables to feed her kids. "Now I have good food for my children to grow on," she says.

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