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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - San Gabriel Valley, California, USA

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San Gabriel Valley, California, USA
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Registered: November 2018
City/Town/Province: Arcadia
Posts: 1
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2018 Apprentice Ecologist Initiative Scholarship - Andre

The Love of Fruits

My name is Andre and I am a junior at Arcadia High School in Southern California. I have been a fish nerd and fishing enthusiast since I was five. I set up a twitter account @4ethicalfishing to advocate for responsible fishing and environmental conservation and currently I have over 4,000 followers worldwide. I am also a boy scout about to Eagle and I have developed a strong passion for the nature over the years. I am excited to do an Apprentice Ecologist project on behalf of the Nicodemus Wilderness Project because I share a similar vision in empowering youth in environmental stewardship.

In light of the critical homelessness issue in Los Angeles County and food waste problem caused by unattended fruits in our community, I co-founded "Fruit For Homeless" with my younger sister in October 2017 to help feed the homeless and low-income families by picking homegrown overabundant fruits in residences and donating our harvests to non-profit organizations with the goal of advancing social justice and progressing environmental and spiritual wellness. Through the launching of a social media campaign and community outreach, the team I have built has been picking fruits almost every weekend and holidays during the peak harvest season. By spreading the love of fruits also through direct street outreach to homeless encampment, we feed the hungry, build stronger community, inspire people to give, and empower people in need. Visuals, details and community responses can be found on our website and social media.
@fruit4homeless (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram)

I am a fan of utilizing our exiting natural resources to help solve problems. Many unattended and overabundant fruits simply fall from trees and become a waste in our community. I walked by and felt like we should have put these valuable resources in good use. Food waste has been a global issue. It clogs our land&#64257;lls and releases harmful methane into the environment. According to Do Something, a global movement for good, $218 billion worth of food is thrown away each year in the U.S. If we recovered all our wasted food, we could provide a 2,000-calorie diet to 84% of the population. My organization aims to tackle these dilemmas and more.

In addition, homelessness has become a crisis in Los Angeles area. L.A.'s homelessness surged 75% in six years. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the 2017 homeless count just in Los Angeles County has soared to 58,790 people, a 23% increase from a year earlier. Homelessness jumped among veterans and young people. About one in 10 college students are homeless. The recent figures show a 3% drop but more people sleep on the street for the first time. Los Angeles Times described the issue as "national disgrace".

In the summer before 7th grade when I was 12 years old, I was an intern/docent for Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. It was far from home so I took a long 2-hour bus ride a couple of times every week by myself. Many homeless folks including veterans were on the same route and we chatted. They were all nice people and became homeless due to various reasons. Another summer right before 8th grade, I volunteered for Los Angeles Food Bank in South LA. The communities we passed by looked a bit run-down and homeless people were everywhere on the streets. That reinforced my desire to do something about it.

I have built a team by recruiting approximately 30-40 helpers from school. Helpers are dispatched to pick fruits, deliver fruits and conduct community outreach. By creating our own flyer, website and social media pages, we take orders from residences to schedule picking. My parents help driving and assist in loading and unloading. We met with our city mayor, community leaders and other elected officials to help get the word out. Through other outreach channels such as neighborhood app NextDoor and words of mouth, we are expanding the scope to a wider area.

We usually pick fruits within the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Valley adjacent to the City of Los Angeles on weekends and deliver them to donation sites on Monday after school. If we pick the fruits on Saturdays, we will schedule a street outreach to give the fresh fruits directly to various homeless encampment sites. One of the organizations I collaborate with is called "LA on Cloud 9" and we partner on events such as homeless community picnics.

We present our fruit donors with our own certificate and give them seeds packets as little token of appreciation. By maintaining a fruit database and posting on social media, we gradually build up a reliable source of fruits picking. We are already having returning donors!

For the past 12 months during which over 95% of our work was conducted in 2018, we have picked over 15,500 pounds of fruits including oranges, tangerines, kumquat, grapefruits, lemons, persimmons, guavas, pomegranates, and avocados which served approximately 20,000 homeless registrants/low-income families, and we have contributed over 1,500 volunteer hours. Individually, I volunteer at least 10-15 hours per week so I have accumulated over 730 hours since October 2017. We diversify our donations by delivering our fruits to various non-profit organizations in Southern California such as Friends in Deed in Pasadena, Foothill Unity Center in Monrovia, and Cory's Kitchen in Irwindale so that more communities can benefit. The Homeless Street Outreach and Community Picnics that we participate in giving out fruits directly to the homeless and low-income families are located further out, approximately 20 miles from our neighborhood areas. We assist in delivering messages of offering the homeless housing services during street outreach. My team continues to grow by recruiting schoolmates through service clubs and our service locations are across the 88 cities in LA County.

Fruit For Homeless is a handy backyard solution we can undertake with our limited resources. An additional effect of stripping fruits from trees is the reinvigoration of the growth cycles of the trees by removing the extra baggage and energy expenditure. Healthy trees produce better fruits. We help donors who do not have time to pick fruits or too old to climb a ladder.

We bring "freshness" to people with less. Canned and packaged foods have historically been a common staple in donations to the homeless. But if we care about our own well-being by having a balanced diet, the homeless folks deserve an equal opportunity to enjoy fresh and nutritious food.

This project is ongoing and sustainable because we can go back in the next harvest cycle. It is unique as we actually go to people's yard and pick fruits off their trees, different from organizations that pick up surplus produce from restaurants or farmer's markets.

In addition to the social and environmental benefits, this self-initiative provides me an opportunity to lead, build my own team and collaborate. We build trust among each other, blend complementary strengths and foster creativity. We make new friends and befriend neighbors we have not spoken very often with. It makes us feel like we are contributing to the world in a significant way, while bringing fun and fulfillment to our lives.

I learn how to manage my time more efficiently and juggle priorities amidst heavy school workload and other activities including a biology research project I am conducting at a local university and my part-time job as an ice-hockey coach. I acquire new skills of interacting with community leaders and partnering with other organizations that most students normally do not deal with at this age. I brush up my presentation skills in delivering ideas in a more effective manner.

Seeing the smiles of our fruit recipients is priceless and gives me the most satisfaction. One time a homeless lady literally thanked us 10 times for getting them fresh fruits other than preserved food.

Supporters' encouraging comments on our social media are warm and uplifting. The community bonding makes them feel proud of living in where they are. Donors appreciate our tree trimming service while picking fruits. Some thanked us with treats such as fancy cookies. A donor one time gave us $120 but we politely declined. She was pleased that we cleared her dead tree branches and made her feel good of helping others without leaving her home.

We all learn to be problem solvers in this project. One of the challenges is that we have to pick fruits effectively as we usually get tired after two hours of intense picking under the sun. Fruits up high and in the middle of the tree canopy where ladders and pickers cannot reach are difficult to pick. We need to climb and clear dead branches. I trained my helpers to pick fruits wisely with different tools. Also, due to the "citrus greening disease", we have to make sure that we pluck all stems and leaves from fruits and leave them onsite in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

If we have more resources, my future plan is to turn Fruit For Homeless into a national or even global network of which we will nominate an ambassador in multiple high schools, equip them with the right tools, help them outreach, and grow their own fruit picking team in their communities. We hope to educate the next generation not just in taking personal responsibility but also in being creative in finding novel solutions. We shall never cease from exploring. Let's strive to make the world a better place to live in for everyone!
Date: November 8, 2018 Views: 316 File size: 21.5kb, 3858.4kb : 4032 x 3024
Hours Volunteered: 1,500
Volunteers: 35
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 16 & 14 to 18
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): Multiple residents' backyards
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