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'Senior Gleaners' pick surplus fruit and feed San Diego's hungry

Non-profit program looking for more volunteers and trees to pick during pandemic tough times.

SAN DIEGO — It's picking season in San Diego County. If you've got trees with fruit that might go to waste the Senior Gleaners of San Diego County are standing by. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Clairemont to profile the non-profit program that feeds San Diego's hungry.  

Credit: Senior Gleaners of San Diego County

"We are picking oranges and tangerines today," said volunteer Margaret Burton. If you never want to see the fruits of your labor go to waste, you may consider calling the Senior Gleaners. Food rescue (also known as gleaning) is the ancient tradition of collecting excess fresh food from farms, gardens, restaurants, or other sources and donating it to those in need. "It's tough times right now," said Margaret.

Credit: Senior Gleaners of San Diego County

The Senior Gleaners of San Diego County will travel wherever fruit is about to spoil. "We've been in Fallbrook, Rancho Sante Fe, Encinitas," said Daryush Bastani. When he retired from Verizon Wireless, Daryush put community service on speed dial. "I heard about Senior Gleaners and that's when I decided I wanted to give back," he said. "No tree is too big or too small no farm is too big or too small."

Credit: Senior Gleaners of San Diego County

Volunteers, ages 55 and older, glean surplus food from fields, groves, backyards, and stores. San Diego is fortunate to have a year-round growing system and a long cultural tradition of sharing and growing food, but every year thousands of pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables go to waste on farms large and small and even in backyards as fruit trees go unharvested. Volunteers started collecting San Diego's harvest in 1992 and have collected up to 400 thousand pounds of food a year.

"I like helping people," said Carol Bausch. She had a career in education but always thought, "I just want to be outside."  

Credit: Senior Gleaners of San Diego County

At present about 40 volunteers do the work of picking, sorting and delivering the food to about a dozen agencies in the county. These agencies include Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Service Center, Consider the Poor, Community Christian Service Agency, Interfaith Community Services, Lakeside Christian Helps Center and a few others.

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"Look at those oranges isn't it amazing?" asked Daryush. Yes, and so is following the fruit to food banks like the Community Christian Service Agency. "We are not going to let food go to waste when there are hungry people," said Pam Crusberg who is a volunteer at the Community Christian Service Agency. "It works all the way around, it's good for the ecology, the economy, I mean it's great. They are wonderful people."

Instead of going into a landfill, these gifts of giving go into people. "It means they get items, they get fresh produce on a daily basis," said Connie Villareal. She is the executive director of the Community Christian Service Agency.

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This has meant helping feed more than 5,000 hungry persons per year. Gleaners continue to need more volunteers and board members and van-drivers as well as financial support. The program is also looking for more properties to donate fruit. If you'd like to help, click here.