Monday, August 17, 2009

ABC7 Salutes - 'Lemon lady' comes through in tough times

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ABC7 Salutes
'Lemon lady' comes through in tough times
The "lemon lady' is making a difference in the lives of the needy

Friday, July 03, 2009 7:33 PM
By Laura Anthony

CONCORD, CA (KGO) -- She calls herself "the lemon lady" because of all the backyard fruit she collects and delivers to bay area food pantries. But Anna Chan does much more than that, as her way of giving back to her community in these tough economic times.
Anna Chan couldn't stand all the waste -- wasted fruit that is.
"I used to drive around the neighborhood and I'd see all the fruit ripening on the trees," said Chan.
So the stay-at-home mom decided it was time to get out, and do something about it. Now, Chan is known in her Concord neighborhood and beyond as the "lemon lady."
She goes house to house and with the owner's permission, harvests home-grown produce and delivers it to local food pantries.
"It's about nutrition," said Chan. "Fresh oranges, lemons, tomatoes, avocados, zucchini. These are all things that we take for granted, but they're not available to someone on a limited income," said Chan.
Homeowner Bonnie Wright gave Chan oranges that would otherwise have gone to waste.
"It seemed like just the perfect use for my oranges. Plus I have two apple trees that are about to begin dropping dozens of apples that I can't keep up with either," said Wright.
Over the past year, Chan estimates she's personally collected at least 5,000 pounds of produce from yards and gardens and driven it to food pantries that rarely receive such fresh donations.
Anna Chan brings much of what she collects to The Salvation Army Food Pantry in Concord, where demand for food has increased dramatically.
"We have seen a double increase in comparison to last year. Last year we were handing out about 200 food boxes per month and this year, it's double that, upwards of 400 just last month," said Stefani Varpi from the Salvation Army.
That's why Chan believes what she's doing is so important. Besides the hands-on gathering, Chan created a website to spread the word about what she does, and how others can help.
She's also organizing a community garden to grow fresh produce for families in need.
"Lots of local pantries need fresh fruit donations, Fruit is accepted. Everyone thinks cans and boxes. Fresh fruit -- think fresh, think outside the box," said Chan.
ABC7 salutes Anna Chan for her dedication to her community.
Anna Chan Blog

Email:, Telephone: 510.406.1625

Contra Costa Times and The Oakland Tribune - July 18, 2009

'Lemon Lady' thinks outside the cardboard box
Clayton 'Lemon Lady's' food mission a fresh means of help
By Laura CaseyContra Costa Times
Posted: 07/17/2009 02:00:00 PM PDT
Updated: 07/18/2009 07:16:28 AM PDT

Anna Chan holds a tray of spinach and bowl of strawberry... (Jim Stevens/Contra Costa Times)

THE SPARK that ignited Anna "The Lemon Lady" Chan's one-woman mission to bring fresh, nutritious food to Contra Costa County's needy was struck by the need to lull a child to sleep.
Chan's 2-year-old daughter, angel-faced Ava, prefers to nap in the family's SUV. So Chan often drives Ava all over Clayton and Concord while the girl finishes her nap time.
In February, while Chan was driving yet again, the former administrative assistant-turned-stay-at-home mom was bothered by something she saw — lemon trees in people's yards, straining under a bounty that no one apparently was harvesting.
Pounds of fruit were falling to the ground to rot. What a waste, she thought, when so many people are going hungry.
Conquering her fear of knocking on strangers' doors, Chan asked homeowners if she could collect the fruit and take it to a food pantry.
The response, she says, has been an overwhelming "Yes."
"A lot of people don't know where their local food pantry is and they don't know that they accept fresh produce," Chan says. "For many folks, a food pantry is within walking distance."
Chan is a fast-talking, earnest woman whose heroes include fresh food activist Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse. Chan also is passionate about food and nutrition. She raises Ava on fresh, wholesome foods but realizes not everyone has the resources to do that.
"In poverty and food bank situations, people are living on canned food and what the government is able to give them," she says.
Fresh often takes a back seat to price and quantity.
Since February, Chan has built a network of more than 300 homes in the area where she collects fruit, and she's always recruiting more.
One early contact was Concord's Jack Farrell. Farrell has several fruit trees in his yard, all hanging heavy with peaches and nectarines. He uses much of the fruit himself but says he certainly doesn't mind Chan stopping by every month or so to pick some for Concord's hungry.
"They need the fruit, too," he says. "If she takes a bag or two, I don't miss it. And you hate to see anything go to waste."
Chan has collected more than 8,000 pounds of food in the five months she's been at it. She delivers by the bag to The Salvation Army pantry on Clayton Road in Concord and to the SHARE pantry at The First Christian Church on Willow Pass Road in Concord, among other places.
"It makes us feel better to, instead of giving canned food out all the time, give something fresh," says George Conlow, president of SHARE.
SHARE has been open for more than 20 years and serves about 600 families a month. Conlow says need is growing as more people are losing their jobs.
Chan's mission doesn't stop at the fruit on the trees of the homes she can access. She also visits local farmer's markets and networks with farmers who, in turn, give her their leftover produce at the end of the day. She takes that produce to food pantries too.
A consummate gardener as well, Chan has been working since May with adults and children in one of Concord's low-income neighborhoods to build a community garden much like Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard.
The plot, about 30-by-12 feet, is planted with an abundance of corn, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Many plants came from seedlings Chan started in her backyard.
"It's a miracle," a young neighborhood boy says of the veggies growing in the plot. He doesn't like tomatoes but he does like watering the plants and watching the garden grow.
Through the garden, the families living in the neighborhood can use the food without balancing its cost with other necessities such as bread, milk or rice.
"The children water it and keep it alive," Chan says. "I will give them seedlings until the sun stops shining."
If Chan sounds like a do-gooder whose devotion to her community and energy is impossible to replicate, think again. Chan set up a Web site to give people in places outside of Concord ideas on how to help the hungry in their communities. The site,, encourages anyone with a heavily producing fruit tree or bountiful garden to head on over to their local food banks and donate.
"Think outside the box," she says. "Think fresh and give what you can."
Contact Laura Casey at or 925-952-2697.