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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Volunteers gather fruit for needy in St. Pete neighborhoods

ST. PETERSBURG — Adults and children fanned the brick streets of the Old Northeast and Crescent Lake neighborhoods this morning, scouring for avocados, oranges and star fruit.

It’s called gleaning, an age-old practice of collecting excess fruit from landowners that otherwise would fall off the branches and rot.

For several years, Old Northeast resident Tracey Locke would walk the streets and gather some of her neighbors’ extra fruit.

Noticing just how much was going to waste, she saw an opportunity.

“We had so much that we were giving it to neighbors,” Locke said.

“When I would take it somewhere, instead of people taking the fruit, they would say, I have a fruit tree, will you come and take mine, too?”

This summer, Locke founded Saint Pete Abundance, a volunteer group that collects and donates neighborhood produce to organizations like the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

This morning, along 16th Avenue Northeast, a group of five teens and three adults surrounded a bushy green tree full of bright yellow star fruit in front of Lester Beckman’s house.

They used their hands and a long pole with a metal basket to pull down dozens of the peculiar oval-shaped fruits, named for their distinctive five-pointed ridges.

Beckman, 91, welcomes neighbors to glean from his tree, which he planted 12 years ago. He gladly offered the extra fruit to Saint Pete Abundance.

“If any of the neighbors ask, I say, ‘Help yourself,’” he said.

“They go to waste.”

Beckman said many of his neighbors used to have thriving orange and grapefruit trees. But most of the trees, including three of his own, have died through the years from frost or blight.

Neighborhoods around downtown St. Petersburg such as Historic Kenwood and Crescent Heights were lined with groves of grapefruit, orange and avocado trees before development sped up in the early part of the last century. Traces of that history remain today, largely hidden in yards, parks and empty lots across the mostly built-out community.

Sam Prince, a volunteer, remembers a lot more fruit trees around St. Petersburg when she was a child.

“We had a mango tree, and we’ve always had fruit trees,” she said.

“We were always getting oranges and mangos and throwing kumquats at each other,”

Today was only the second gleaning for St. Pete Abundance, but Locke plans to organize monthly collections in the future because the city’s varieties of fruit ripen throughout the year.

Some volunteers scouted the Crescent Lake neighborhood, knocking on doors and politely asking residents if they would be willing to share.

The group of 28 gathered more than 140 pounds of fruit in two hours, including star fruit, avocados, Florida grapes and a few grapefruit.

The harvest will go to the Free Clinic, where many families on fixed incomes can’t afford fresh fruit at a grocery store.

“It’s something kind of simple, but it makes a tremendous impact on the families we’re able to serve,” said Shaina Bent, who directs We Help Services at the Free Clinic.

For information, visit www.saintpeteabundance.com

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