Salvation Army’s gleaning project provides fresh citrus to families

by Doug Haberman, the Riverside, Calif., Press-Enterprise –

To help provide fresh fruit to families in need, the Riverside office of The Salvation Army has taken a page from Scripture.

The charity is sending some of its clients to a 3-acre navel orange grove in Riverside, where they pick the oranges for themselves and for other families.

The Old Testament book of Leviticus calls on landowners to leave some of the harvest for the poor—the part not gathered by reapers, known as the gleaning or gleanings—and The Salvation Army has named its effort “the gleaning project.”

Riverside Salvation Army volunteer Betty Mairena, of Riverside, picks oranges at Lamar Citrus Groves in Riverside on Tuesday.
“It’s a huge, huge help,” said Nury Lockwood, 25, of Riverside, who is married and has a child in kindergarten. She is a caregiver for a 93-year-old woman and her husband works odd jobs but they are struggling financially, she said.

On Tuesday, Lockwood and about 10 other adults worked for a couple hours at a private grove on Victoria Avenue owned by Salvation Army advisory board member Jane Lamar.

Some of them climbed amid the branches of the fragrant trees to pick the oranges. Others used ladders to gather the fruit and still others stayed on the ground and put the oranges into crates, boxes and pails.

The Salvation Army clients can already receive one food box every 90 days and a separate supply of food staples every month, including oatmeal, chicken, rice and beans, corn flakes and peanut butter, said family service coordinator Maddy Graham.

What’s missing is fresh produce, she said.

When Salvation Army members learned that some growers had fruit that was falling off the trees and rotting, the gleaning idea came up, said business administrator Clarissa Grier.

Sam Negrete, 43, of Riverside, said the citrus gives his family a more balanced diet.

The Salvation Army was inspired by the book of Leviticus, which calls on landowners to leave some of the harvest for the poor—called gleaning.

“That’s what I like,” he said as he tossed oranges into a box.

Negrete said he was recently laid off as a forklift operator and has been unable to find another job. His wife is a homemaker and they have two children living at home. He sought help from the Salvation Army and volunteered for the gleaning project, he said.

The Salvation Army in Riverside is seeing more and more people like Negrete amid the economic crisis, said Graham.

It gave out 1,080 food boxes in 2007 and 1,932 boxes in 2008, she said.

Lamar, 84, the grove owner, said she is happy to participate in the gleaning project. Having a commercial harvesting firm pick her oranges no longer makes economic sense and leaving the fruit on the trees or on the ground just invites rats, she said.

Through the project, she’s helping provide sound nutrition to families.

“It’s just very rewarding to me,” said Lamar.

The Salvation Army is looking for more citrus groves and farms with other crops willing to participate in the gleaning project. Call Graham at 951-784-4490, ext. 106.

Reach Doug Haberman at 951-368-9644 or

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