Take your pick

Chris Hays, 17, harvests persimmons at a home off of Watsonville

With Santa Clara Valley’s rolling hills as a backdrop,
volunteers donned gloves, picked up pruning shears, climbed ladders
and snipped the dark branches of a persimmon tree dotted with the
ripe, bright orange fruit.
With Santa Clara Valley’s rolling hills as a backdrop, volunteers donned gloves, picked up pruning shears, climbed ladders and snipped the dark branches of a persimmon tree dotted with the ripe, bright orange fruit.

All proceeds from the event – about 10 crates brimming with the festive spheres – went to local food banks, such as Second Harvest, that bring food to the needy.

“It was a good feeling kind of day,” Gilroy resident and volunteer Joan Halperin said.

Called Village Harvest, the nearly 10-year-old Santa Clara County program connects volunteer harvesters and local food banks with farmers, ranchers, and fruit tree owners with surplus produce.

Village Harvest is now starting a South County branch and is seeking volunteers and donations.

Halperin came across the program through Second Harvest, a longtime resource for needy local families, and is one of the first South County residents to get involved. San Jose residents have been actively harvesting and donating fruits and vegetables since 2001.

“I hate to see food wasted, it’s the way I was raised,” Halperin said. “We’re so blessed in the Bay Area. We can have fresh fruit virtually all year ’round.”

Elaine Hays’ family of seven has volunteered with the program for almost six years, since moving to Morgan Hill from Iowa.

“I like the sense of community that it creates. I like that people are concerned about the hungry and want to help meet the need with their own abundance,” she said.

Another bonus is that volunteers can bring a small amount of the pick home to enjoy, Hays said.

Over the years, Hays said her family has met volunteers from all walks of life, from college students to retirees to unemployed newspaper reporters.

“It’s a great opportunity to donate your time and not your money,” Hays said. “I can’t give anything right now. But we have hands that can help pick … We have such an abundant area. There are so many orchards that have been abandoned, that are no longer a farm but still produce.”

Cindy McCown, senior director of programs and services for Second Harvest, said her organization doesn’t have the volunteer core to do what Village Harvest does.

“It’s certainly a huge resource of getting fresh produce that … if no one can pick it, might rot and go to waste,” she said. “That’s where Village Harvest is really a huge added value. They have that niche in the food chain in making sure the food doesn’t go to waste. Also, they’re able to access fresh produce that may not be readily available through other donation chains.”

Countywide, volunteers picked almost 200,000 pounds of produce in 2009, according to the nonprofit’s Web site.

Since 2001, the organization has provided more than two million servings of fruits and vegetables. That’s enough to serve more than 1,000 people five servings of produce daily for a year.

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