Atlanta's secret bounty: Free fruit for those in need
ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Monday was grocery day for 38-year-old Stephanie Young. As a single mom with three children, getting enough food can be a struggle. Stephanie has been facing some big challenges. Last year, she was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. She had major surgery, lost her job, her home and now lives with her mother.
"It's been rough," said Young. "But with these guys being here and helping us, I'm able to provide for my family, making sure that we have a meal."
Young has turned to the Southwest Ecumenical Emergency Assistance Center's food pantry in the West End. She said thanks to one of SWEEAC’s providers, she has been eating better than she ever has.
Open twice a week, the pantry serves up to 300 people a day.
Concrete Jungle offers vegetables grown in their small, in-town farm, but the fruit, like plums, comes from the most unlikely places, like this tree in a yard in Cabbagetown.
"There are a lot of food insecure, homeless hungry people around Atlanta," said Aubrey Daniels, co-founder of Concrete Jungle, a non-profit dedicated to bringing the freshest, Georgia-grown produce to the homeless and those in need. "And we have at least tens of thousands of pounds of fruit that's just wasting in the city because no one's collecting it."
So every Thursday, from May through November, volunteers go out and pick wild fruit growing in public and private places around the city, donating it to shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries.
"You have to learn how to get your fruit goggle," said Daniels. "You have to learn how to actually recognize the fruit trees from all the other trees. But once you do that, you see that they are everywhere."
Since 2009, between the picks and the farm, Concrete Jungle has harvested over 93,000 pounds of free produce.
"My name is actually the veggie girl...the veggie girl," said Ivory Flemister, program manager for Concrete Jungle.
At SWEEAC’s food pantry, the plums are a huge hit, but so is the slaw. With her love of cooking, Flesmister dreams up simple recipes and spreads the word about the virtues of fresh food.
"This is good, I love it," one of the clients told FOX 5 News. "I never ate radishes before."
“There's so many people that I didn't think I would change their lives," said Flemister. "I'm literally changing lives by giving these fresh vegetables and these simple recipes."
And for Young, the bounty and care from the folks at Concrete Jungle and the pantry are helping her through the toughest of times.
"Yeah, I feel a whole lot better," said Young. " It was a journey, but I'm here, and I'm thankful, and I appreciate life more than anything now."
Learn more about the food pantry by going to sweeac.org.
And learn how to become involved at concrete-jungle.org.