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Local teens collect 1,907 pounds of fruit through 'Backyard Harvest'

Teens donate fruit to OHK, Tri-Valley Haven Food Pantry

In a December 2014 interview, two high school seniors had a goal of collecting around 600 pounds of fruit for their second annual "citrus harvest," double the amount they collected in 2013, which would then be donated to Open Heart Kitchen (OHK).

"The more the merrier," said Foothill High School senior Justin Silliman.

During an interview last week, Silliman said he and his friends collected 1,907 pounds of fruit that they were able to donate to OHK's Pleasanton and Livermore sites and Tri-Valley Haven Food Pantry.

"It's crazy how we did way more than we anticipated," Silliman said.

What started off as a two-man team, expanded to a team of six students -- with Silliman's friends Reed Baer and Alexa Hanson helping with most of the harvesting, which finished two weeks ago.

Since the end of December, the high schoolers have been collecting fruit from Pleasanton homes, even from a San Ramon residence, almost every weekend, including weekdays right after school.

Some of the fruit collected included grapefruits, lemons, oranges, tangelos and mandarin oranges -- which OHK used in their senior meals and student lunch programs, and Tri-Valley Haven included in its bags of groceries given to low-income Tri-Valley residents.

"It felt good knowing I'm helping out for a better cause," said Baer, a Foothill senior.

Hanson, also a senior at Foothill, echoed Baer's statement, adding that it was a fun experience.

The three high schoolers said many of the fruit donors embraced the "citrus harvest" idea, taking pictures and even assisting them pick fruit.

Silliman and his mother Pam, who sponsors the harvest, recalled a time when a donor's neighbor helped pick the fruit located on his side of the yard and handed it over the fence to the teens.

"I think a bunch of the people were surprised because it was younger kids," said Hanson. "I think they're happy that we're high school kids doing it and getting involved and helping the community."

The Pleasanton Partnerships in Education (PPIE) Foundation also assisted the group by awarding Silliman a $300 "Innovative Student Grant" in late February -- which was used to purchase a small ladder, boxes, a fruit picker, gloves, buckets, and their printed flyers about the harvest.

"The entire committee felt this was a wonderful project for several reasons. It offers students a hands-on experience to help an important non-profit in our community," said PPIE executive director Susan Hayes. "Not only will their efforts directly feed members of our community, but the project can be duplicated on every campus at all grade levels."

With such a successful second harvest and people inquiring about donating next year, the teens said they are planning to hold a third "Backyard Harvest" with more student volunteers.

"Jim Clark, the civics teacher, said he'd be happy to leave this on the list for some student to pick up next year," Pam said, as all three teens will be in college.

But the trio expressed their interest in coming back to help with the harvest.

Silliman added that he was thinking of starting a "Backyard Harvest" wherever he will be attending college.

Pleasanton schools superintendent Parvin Ahmadi said, "Our students are constantly finding ways to do good work and benefit their fellow community members."

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