Helena David is on a mission. Her ambitious goal to pick and donate 100,000 pieces of fruit in one year for Southern California's underprivileged is already well underway. As of February, her organization Those Who Care has donated over 17,000 pieces of locally grown fruit.
Thanks to the support of her family and a few generous volunteers, she won't have to do it all alone. Through a website her teenage son set up for her, local residents and businesses are already scheduling appointments to have their fruit trees picked for donation--free of cost.
Helena's husband Scott, who supports their family working as a private contractor, still finds time to help his wife pick fruit and even lets her borrow his work truck to transport it. "I have been going out every single day except last week, when it was raining," she explains. "I want to reach 100,000 and my husband has been a great help and a great supporter. He keeps on saying 'go hun' and then he comes home and he cleans the house."
Photography by John Creston DuBois.
Despite their tough financial circumstances, her family has sought out unconventional ways of giving back to their community. According to David, "The economy is really bad nationwide and people can't afford to give money, at least most of us. But California is very rich in fruits, so why not share it? Most of it is going in the garbage anyway."
According to Diane L. Cooper, an Atwater Village resident for over 30 years, the two fruit trees on her property attract rodents once the fruit falls off of the tree. "I enjoy that the fruit is going to be picked by someone... and the fact that these people are very generous with their time and energy to come pick and donate it to the underprivileged." Upon having her fruit picked for donation, she insisted on being put on a list to receive the service again next year.
David cites her childhood upbringing in Africa as being pivotal, not only in her ability to climb fruit trees but also her attitude about giving back to the community. "I don't have the luxury of saying 'I don't have time,'" she says. "I grew up in Africa and they didn't have welfare and we all had to help each other... No one is too busy, because those people that claim they are too busy always find time to go to a bar, to dinner, to a movie, to a party. So how can they be too busy?"
One recipient of the locally grown fruit is PATH Los Angeles (People Assisting The Homeless), a shelter that provides transitional housing for up to 98 people. This includes meals for all of their residents, as well as lunches for around 4,000 people per year through their service center. "We get a pretty decent number of food donations that go straight up to the kitchen," says Cali Zimmerman, Communications Coordinator at PATH Los Angeles. "We get a lot of dried and canned goods for the most part, but we don't get as much of the fresh fruit and vegetables."
In regards to those who who chose to throw away their homegrown fruit, David says, "They forget that to a lot of these people, an orange or two it's all they are going to have for lunch or for the whole day to eat. So it's imperative that we get everything out there that we can possibly get out there. We need to help ourselves, and when I say 'ourselves,' it doesn't mean me. It means me, you, and the next person."