By Agnes CONSTANTE
Using fruit picking sticks several feet long, students from Crescenta Valley High School (CVHS) and La Cañada High School (LCHS) probe at the highest branches of a citrus fruit tree. Once they manage to catch a fruit stem between the metal prongs at the top of the tool, it takes just a little bit of yanking for the fruit to fall into the small basket-like compartment at the top of the stick.
As soon as a few fruits fill the compartment, the students carefully bring the tool down and dump what they’ve collected into paper grocery bags from Trader Joe’s.
For approximately two hours, these high school students devoted a recent Sunday afternoon to collecting fruits as part of the La Cañada Flintridge Community Harvest Program.
“It’s a program where we match owners with fruit trees with volunteers from the community so that the volunteers harvest fruit from the fruit trees,” said Monica Demoulin, a community member coordinating the program. Food collected from this program is donated to the Foothill Unity Center in Pasadena and is distributed to families in need of assistance.
The harvest program began its formation last spring when Demoulin’s daughter’s Girl Scout troop began the search for a community service project. Most of the projects the troop did that year focused on locally grown produce and organic food, and Demoulin came across a harvest program in Monrovia.
Demoulin said that her daughter’s Girl Scout troop was able to collect approximately 1,500 pounds of fruit from 10 to 12 homes last year.
Because volunteers were using supplies from Monrovia, the fruit collected was officially recognized as having been done through Monrovia’s harvest program, even though the volunteers and homes were mostly from La Cañada. Because of this, and because of the distance between La Cañada and Monrovia, Demoulin brought the program to the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.
The center offered to supply the picking materials, gloves, and garbage bags, and the program was officially sponsored by the La Cañada Community Center during the summer.
“This is a great program for groups that need volunteer hours or people that just want to do something that’s not really that hard, it’s actually kind of fun,” said Melissa Mills, assistant program director of the community center. “And it’s for a really great cause. Knowing that you’re picking fruit for people that are going to eat it in the next couple of days is really great.”
The Foothill Unity Center aims to provide resources, such as clothing and food, to those in need. It serves more than 4,000 low-income families in 11 cities.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are in short supply a lot of the time so this is a really terrific program for us to get the kind of nutrition to people that they really need,” said Linda Taubenreuther, development and marketing director at the Foothill Unity Center.
From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., members from the CVHS and LCHS key clubs volunteered their time to pick fruit for low-income families. While the clubs also volunteer for other service projects, the purpose and design of the program has made it one that students enjoy and appreciate.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for a good cause,” said Joshua Pe, a junior at CVHS.
“It’s [a] more direct [way of helping] compared to other ways of just fundraising money,” said Jonathan Lim, a student at LCHS. “It’s good because we actually know where [the fruit] is going.”
Those interested in volunteering their homes for fruit picking or in picking fruit can contact Demoulin at 818-489-4907 or firstname.lastname@example.org.