07/27/2013 01:23 EDT

Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society Hits Funding Crisis

Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society

Some things just make sense. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society is one of them.

Gardens all around the city are bursting with fruit either ready to pick or busy ripening: apples, plums, cherries, figs – a phenomenal backyard bounty. But just because you have a beautiful tree laden with delicious fruit doesn’t mean you have the capacity to strip it bare and eat the entire harvest.

That’s where the Fruit Tree Project comes in. In its 14th year, this almost entirely volunteer-run program strives to pair fresh fruit with the people who need it, picking your produce and providing it to community groups. You can donate all of the harvest, or have some kept back for your own use, knowing that your donation will not go to waste.

“We have picked over 40,000 pounds of fruit since the project began,” says chair of the board, Lin Gardiner. “Last year alone we picked 3,500 pounds and distributed a 5000-pound surplus from the UBC apple festival.”

The fruit goes to senior centres, daycares, women’s shelters, assisted living programs – the marginalized communities in our society, Gardiner says.

But, for the first time since its inception, the society has been turned down for the $13,000 annual grant it needs to operate. In the past the money – which goes mostly to pay for one staff co-ordinator during the picking season – has been raised largely through substantial awards from B.C. Gaming or VanCity. This year, both organizations turned them down.

Despite hitting so many identified local priorities – food security, community building, green jobs – the project has been a victim of changing eligibility rules.

“It is disappointing,” admits Gardiner. “But we have been determined to continue on.”

Fierce fundraising has garnered around $8000 – enough to get things up and running and a co-ordinator hired but, as Gardner notes, the effort takes up time and energy, precious commodities in a grass roots organization.

“We know how appreciated the fruit is,” she says. “We can show up with boxes and boxes of apples and know they will all be used in some way, be it apple chips, or apple sauce for kids. The board is really stepping up to make it work, and the weather means the season is running a few weeks earlier this year.

They are still $5,000 short of their target, Gardiner says. “There is a risk we will run out of money before the season ends.”

Taylor Macdougall is the community programmer for Steeves Manor Resource Centre, a low income housing facility in Kitsilano. He first heard about the project last year and quickly signed up to receive fruit.

“It’s hard to describe what a treat 300 pounds of fresh plums are to our residents,” he says. “We receive many donations from food retailers, but they are usually made up of food on the turn.”

Steeves Manor houses 300 low-income adults and hosts many food programs, including a community kitchen. Every piece of fruit that arrived last season was put to use, Macdougall says, either eaten whole, baked into pies and muffins or canned for later.

He was so impressed by the project that when a position opened up to be on the board he jumped at it: “I had seen first-hand the benefits in my own community and I didn’t hesitate.”

Check out a slideshow of some of the fruits harvested by the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society:

Photo gallery Vancouver Fruit Tree Project See Gallery