An apple a day can help keep hunger at bay.
And thousands of pounds of apples can feed a lot of hungry people. More than 200 volunteers descended on Green Bluff in Mead today to harvest farmers’ remaining fruits and vegetables – mostly apples – before they go to waste. The fresh-picked produce will be donated to Second Harvest.
The volunteers plucked the apples off trees at several different farms. The filled boxes were hauled away on trailers attached to all-terrain vehicles before being stacked on pallets and loaded into trucks. Eventually, the food will be distributed to Second Harvest’s food bank network across 21 Eastern Washington and five North Idaho counties.
The apples’ final destination: feeding the poor, children and families in crises, and elderly and disabled people on fixed incomes.
More than 30,000 pounds of produce will be harvested this year, estimated Rod Wieber, chief resource officer for Second Harvest.
The annual harvest began in 2007, with a handful of volunteers who picked less than 6,000 pounds of produce. Since, the effort has grown substantially, he said, helping ease the strain placed on food banks as more and more people go hungry, especially during winter, when budgets are stretched by higher heating bills and other expenses.
In the Inland Northwest, one in six people are hungry or at risk of hunger; Second Harvest has increased its food distribution by 60 percent over the last three years, “which really speaks to what the hunger need in our community is,” Wieber said.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented need over the last few years,” he said. “The need has just risen so much.”
Volunteers came from area high schools, Fairchild Air Force Base and Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions service clubs for the Saturday morning harvest.
“It’s an excellent way to ensure the community has food for the coming winter,” said Arrie Frakes, president of the Rotaract Club of Spokane. “It would go to waste. We want to make sure we can distribute it effectively to those in need.”
Steve Fisk, North Central High School’s assistant principal, used the harvest as a teaching opportunity.
“Remember, it’s always important to give back,” he told a group of students.
“I think it’s always important to reflect on the things we have and help others,” he said. “I think kids get a bad rap, but they give back all the time. They get it.”
The airmen from Fairchild handled the logistics of the operation – ensuring pickers had the needed supplies, distributing boxes and getting the trucks to the right farms at the right time “so the whole thing can run smoothly,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Herrington.
“We like to get involved in the community and give back,” he said. “You guys are pretty welcoming to us, so we like to help out when we can.”
For the volunteers, participating was a win-win: they got to help the needy while enjoying the crisp, cool fall morning.
“It’s awesome,” said Bryson Conner, a Post Falls High School student. “I think it’s absolutely gorgeous out here.”