Refugees from Asia and Africa will gather thousands of pounds of fresh produce to redistribute throughout Spokane this summer.
The Refugees’ Harvest Project includes nearly 40 Hmong, Nepali, Tanzanian, Karen and Bhutanese volunteers. Starting in late July, the volunteers will spend weekdays taking donations of fresh fruits and vegetables from anyone with a small farm or garden in the area.
Then, the group will hand out the produce for free on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon near the playground at the Liberty Park Terrace Apartments and at the East Central Community Center through the end of August.
The produce is not meant for any particular consumers, said Susan Hales, the director of Refugee Connections Spokane.
“Anyone can walk up,” Hales said. “You don’t have to prove that you need the food. We know that anybody who wants or needs fruits or vegetables will come.”
Hales, who assists with coordination between the volunteers and donors, said the harvest is a good way for the refugees to connect with the local community.
“We want to give back to the community and build that relationship,” she said.
The project began with 13 volunteers last year and was named the Refugee Urban Fruit and Vegetable Harvest. The original group collected about 2,000 pounds of food. But with about three times more help this year, the volunteers hope to gather at least 3,000 pounds of donations over the next couple months.
The idea for the project began with Nou Vang, who left Laos more than a quarter century ago and eventually found a new home in Spokane.
“We really suffered,” Vang said of life under Laos’ communist regime.
Vang, 42, was only a child then. She and her family snuck out at night to neighboring Thailand.
“If we got caught, we got killed,” she said. “We were lucky.”
Vang’s harvesting experience goes back to her childhood when she picked corn, cucumbers, sugar cane and other crops with her parents. To her and the other refugees with farming experience, the project is a way to say thanks to Spokane for taking them in.
“Now it is time for us to give back to Spokane for helping us when we first came to the USA,” she said. “Now we want to give back what we can to the community.”
The project also gives consumers who normally buy their fruit from supermarkets an opportunity to taste fresh fruit straight out of a local backyard, Vang said.
“They don’t know how fresh fruit tastes,” she said. “It’s delicious.”
The Spokane Regional Health District and the Rotary Club 21 stepped in to provide funding for the project, covering expenses for gas and food. Those who want to donate their food can either gather it themselves or ask the volunteers to pick it, Vang said.