MODESTO — There are worse ways to spend a sunny Saturday than picking fruit in pleasant company, say teens gleaning trees drooping with fruit. The recent harvest 145 pounds of oranges and 214 pounds of grapefruit went to the needy who depend on food banks throughout the county.
It was a win-win for everyone: Owners cleared their trees of unwanted, unreachable fruit and high school students got public service credit. Good deed high-fives all around.
That warm feeling offers yet another harvest from the Harvesting Futures program, a charity inspired by the Valley Apprentice competition.
"We didn't win the contest, but we thought it was a winning idea," said program coordinator Rhonda Dahlgren with the Center for Human Services.
A separate portion of the program has teens lugging in farm produce and preparing products like jams for retail sale.
But the gleaning program is more a pick-up-and-go plan. Student volunteers lend a hand most weekends. Earlier this month, they cleared backyard trees on Myrtle Avenue in Modesto. Some picks were prearranged; others just cropped up.
"These trees are prolific with grapefruit. The trouble is, a lot of them go to waste," said homeowner and fruit donor Walt Masciorini.
"It's getting to be too much for him to pick," chimed in Ann Masciorini.
Besides, both agreed, "We're kind of impressed with the young people."
The teens artfully snagged high-hanging citrus with pole-mounted baskets, traded filled boxes for empties and scouted fruit hiding among the thorns.
"It's a nice way to spend a Saturday. And it goes to food banks," said Felicia Romo, a Downey High senior fulfilling public service hours for her leadership class.
"I like the picking, especially with friends to do it with," said Brooklyn Kelley, a junior in a leadership class at Enochs High.
Christian Capulian of Johansen High came just to volunteer, having fulfilled his hours for Future Business Leaders of America. "It's easy. It's fun, too," he said.
That's what Dahlgren likes to hear.
"A lot of food banks don't get fresh produce, so there is a need," she said. Match that need with the overflowing bounty of many backyard trees "so much more than a family can eat" and the common-sense solution appears.
"We have a wide group volunteering," she said, ticking off a list of leadership classes, school service clubs, church groups, private schools, families and more. Dahlgren said about 70 volunteers help out on a rotating basis.
Together, they sent more than a ton of fruit to area food banks last year. Oranges, grapefruits and more were offered by homeowners and picked by kids, all wanting to help in harvesting a better future.
For more information about volunteering fruit or help, contact Rhonda Dahlgren at (209) 526-1476, ext. 183, or rdahlgren@centerforhuman services.org.