Inspiration in Action: Fruit for the Hungry
It started with a simple drive through town. Anna Houghton and her friend Kate Peabody were driving around and saw a lady picking up oranges from her yard and throwing them in the trash.
“We thought, wow, that was just a waste. How many hungry people are there in our county?” says Houghton. They decided to do something about it.
Twenty-two thousand pounds of fruit later, Houghton’s group of fruit pickers supports five different institutions that provide food for the hungry in northwest Florida.
They called their organization “Yes, We Can Pensacola.” The name came from Houghton and some of the other volunteers who had worked on President Obama’s campaign.
The Pensacola News Journal ran an ad asking people with fruit bearing trees to let Yes, We Can Pensacola volunteers come by and pick their fruit. The ad simply said “Got fruit, want to share?” Then the group began donating the fruit to the local food bank Manna Food Pantries.
“Yes You Can Pickers is providing food to the hungry in northwest Florida in a very unique way. They’re combining volunteerism with giving of food to help those in need. Wow! That means everyone benefits!” says Manna Executive Director DeDe Flounlacker.
Houghton put together her team of volunteers by finding people through her part time job, Facebook, other friends and neighbors. “It turned into a much bigger thing than we ever thought it would be,” she says.
The first year they picked about 2,000 pounds of produce from greens and pecans to their biggest product—citrus. The second year they more than doubled their output, picking over 5,000 pounds. Then in 2010-11 they picked over 15,000 pounds of fresh fruit. “I really didn’t think we had it in us, but it was fun,” says Houghton.
Flounlacker says, “Having an amazing group like Yes, We Can Fruit Pickers provide fresh fruit means we’re able to enhance our service to those in need.”
She goes on to say, “As an essential food group, fruit is very important in meeting the nutritional needs of all human beings…Having fresh fruit to give out to those in need is vital to their mental and physical health. Because fresh fruit tends to be very expensive in the markets, it’s likely not something that many of our clients can afford to buy. Imagine if someone gave you something that you’d like to have but just can’t afford. And that something is good for you too!”
The citrus season starts the first of November and goes into February so the group picks during the coldest months of the year in north Florida. Last year they picked so much that they began bringing fruit to five different places, one of which had contacted them.
Houghton describes the group as “Local people taking care of local needs.” The group has a mixture of pickers from high school kids to a woman in her 80’s. Houghton started the group when she was 61 and has never looked back.
It makes you wonder if a simple idea you might have driving around the neighborhood could make a difference in other people’s lives. If you take some time and energy to make it happen, like Houghton did, it surely could.
Pictures below from Left to Right:
1. Kate Peabody and Anna Houghton, founders of Yes, We Can Pensacola
2. Yes, We Can Pensacola fruit pickers and home owners with some of their haul
3. Yes, We Can Pensacola fruit pickers in their Yes, We Can T-shirts