It all started when stay-at-home mom Anna Chan and young daughter Ava were taking a spin in the family’s SUV. Like many parents, Chan often took short road trips around the California neighborhood to help calm her colicky daughter. In February 2009, Chan noticed many of her neighbors’ fruit trees were loaded with delicious fruit. But she also noticed the ground was scattered with rotting lemons and oranges. Surely, something could be done with all that fruit?
Determined not to let all that fruit go to waste, Chan created and distributed fliers on the doorsteps of homeowners asking residents for permission to collect the fruit and take it to local food pantries. Amazingly, people began calling and Chan began picking. Whether it was lemons, grapefruit, avocados, pears and oranges, she picked them, one-by-one and loaded the fruit into the back seat of her SUV. Chan picked over 100 pounds of fresh, homegrown lemons and oranges the very first day! And in just one month’s time, this very special mom on a mission distributed approximately 2,000 pounds of citrus fruit from Concord and Clayton to local food banks and pantries.
Because homeowners are not the only people with unused fruit, Chan also networks with area farmers for their leftover produce. Dubbed the “Lemon Lady,” Chan “branched out” and added fresh veggies to her regimen. Whatever happened to be in season, was fair game for the Lemon Lady.
But why stop there? Why not help people grow their own food? With help from Kathy Gleason of the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano, a vacant lot in a low-income neighborhood was converted into the Children’s Community Garden of Concord. Chan donated seedlings from her back yard for the project. Today, the plot of land is loaded with corn, eggplant, squash and tomato plants. The children in the neighborhood help water and weed the plot. Chan also provides seedlings to other community gardens. Chan is also a busy public speaker, teaching others about food education, gardening and community gardening.
And Chan’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Lemon Lady was the recipient of the Bay Area Jefferson Award for Public Service, a special Commendation from California Garden Clubs, Inc. and the KQED Public Broadcasting Women’s History Hero 2010.
To date, the Lemon Lady from Claycord has donated more than 45 tons of fresh produce, or about $100,000 worth of food, to needy children and hunger relief organizations in one year. One inspirational woman’s grassroots campaign against hunger has made a difference in many people’s lives, one lemon at a time.