As he was driving home one day more than three years ago, Ehab Ali saw a sign on Blanco Road in Salinas advertising for Ag Against Hunger.
The name caught his fancy, so when he got home, he looked it up the organization on the Internet. The idea of helping feed others instead of throwing produce into the trash felt right, so he immediately signed up to volunteer.
"It's a great thing to do to contribute to your community," said Ali, 40. "Helping other people to have food on the table, giving something to the community and teaching my son something. Having him with me every time to volunteer is a great message that we can send others, not just live for yourself."
Ali, a professor of Hebrew at the Defense Language Institute, and his son Adam, 10, were named co-volunteers of the year by Ag Against Hunger, a Central Coast nonprofit that gleans agricultural fields to feed the needy.
The duo was chosen for the hours they spent in the fields and their willingness to help their mission, said Lindsay Coate, the organization's executive director.
"They're often the ones teaching our newest volunteers how to harvest the product, helping direct everybody. They know what's going on," Coate said. "Ehab will send us emails whenever he thinks (the organization) should be present at events, and volunteer for the event. He's a great ambassador for Ag Against Hunger.
Ali and Adam, a fifth-grader at Oasis Public Charter School in Salinas, spend most Saturdays in the fields during the season, harvesting produce left behind by the machines. The produce is packed and delivered to food banks and other local organizations that help feed the needy.
"If some bag is full, I take it and bring it back to the truck," Adam said as he pet his dog Chiquita. "I help open boxes. I go almost every Saturday."
Adam has never said he doesn't want to go help, not even when he began at age 7.
"He's the one always encouraging me to go," Ali said. "After a long week of work, he gets up and makes sure we'll get there."
Adam will help with anything, his father said. He cuts vegetables, carries loads of elderly volunteers and brings back their empty containers. He never complains.
"For me, he's the one running the show," Ali said. "For three years, he's the one really encouraging me to go and to help."
Adam loves to play basketball, football and is a great swimmer, Ali says. He speaks Hebrew and Arabic, and is kind to his friends and to people around him.
"He's very helpful," Ali said. "He'll find something to do so he can help other people, wherever he goes, he'll try to help even if nobody is asking for it."
Adam is always with his father, Coate said, and the boy is amazing.
"He shows everyone how to properly cut the product," Coate said. "He's right out there with his dad. I don't think Ehab has attended a gleaning without Adam. He's a really good kid."
Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or firstname.lastname@example.org