Morgan and Suzanne Davis have 17 orange trees that needed picking. The east Mesa couple had plenty of oranges that weren’t lost to the frost, but they couldn’t pick all the oranges themselves.
So the United Food Bank in Mesa sent out a group of volunteers Wednesday morning to do the job.
“We’re glad we can donate them to the food bank,” Suzanne Davis said. “They did a good job, and I was just really appreciative. All these sweet volunteers. It really worked out well for us.”
There are many families like the Davises who are unable to pick their own oranges, lemons and grapefruits, and there aren’t enough volunteer citrus pickers to help them out.
So the Association of Arizona Food Banks has started a toll-free phone number, 1 (800) 445-1914, and is getting the word out that volunteers are needed around the Valley to pick the citrus before it goes bad.
Valley food banks, such as the United Food Bank in Mesa, need the citrus to fill their nutritionally balanced food boxes with vitamin C-rich foods, and to be able to distribute to agencies they serve.
Homeowners are encouraged to pick their own citrus, if they are able, and are asked to drop it off at United Food Bank, 358 E. Javelina Ave., said Donna Rodgers, the food bank’s director of resource development.
“We can put it to good use,” Rodgers said. “If we have an overabundance we share it with sister food banks.”
The food bank provides the citrus picker devices and buckets, and even delivers and picks up the large cardboard bins filled with citrus at the sites. When volunteers call, the food bank matches the group with a nearby property owner in need of some citrus picking.
The United Food Bank has 163 homeowners signed up who need their citrus picked. Last year, 2,000 volunteers donated 15,000 hours to pick citrus.
The food bank needs two to three volunteer groups to pick citrus each week until the picking season ends, around the end of March, Rodgers said.
“We just need bodies to pick the citrus and fill the bins,” she said. “It’s great for Scout groups, businesses that want to do bonding or groups of residents. It’s also a great family activity.”
The group of volunteer citrus pickers on Wednesday included Rodgers and some members of the United Food Bank board, and a group of nine seniors from Silver Ridge RV Resort in Mesa.
Margie Petersen has volunteered her time to pick citrus for United Food Bank with the Silver Ridge group for three years.
The group regularly goes out once a week and picks citrus, usually grapefruits in The Groves gated community.
Last year, the group picked 40,000 pounds of citrus. The group has an average age of 72 and brings their own equipment, including the citrus pickers and ladders, Petersen said.
“I guess it’s an opportunity to give back,” said the 73-yearold winter resident from Minnesota. “We old people pick for the young people.”