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Fruit Hui volunteers maintain the research orchard at the Urban Garden Center.

The work of long-time University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) volunteers is more crucial than ever with limited access to fresh food during the COVID-19 crisis.

Volunteers harvest 200 pounds of fresh tropical fruit each week for the Hawaii Foodbank.

For years, the Fruit Hui has tirelessly maintained the research orchard at CTAHR’s Urban Garden Center in Pearl City. The group typically harvests more than 200 pounds of fresh tropical fruit per week, picked at the peak of ripeness. Since these trees are maintained for research projects, not for their produce, the volunteers donate all excess fruit to the Hawaii Foodbank. In 2019, they volunteered some 9,000 hours, collecting 14,000 pounds of fresh and nutritious food for Hawaiʻi‘s hungry.

The Fruit Hui, led by retired extension agent Dale Sato and volunteer Susie Ota, have made adjustments by integrating social distancing.

Ota explains that they now allow only one person to ride in the garden’s cart at a time, while the rest walk, in order to maintain a 6-foot social distance from each other. They carry a jug of water for hand washing, as well a bottle of hand sanitizer, and each wears disposable gloves that are changed with each activity, from harvesting to sanitation. The volunteers enter the field office one at a time to sign in and out, and only one person delivers the fruit to the Hawaii Foodbank at a time.

“During this difficult time, the group has stepped up their efforts to provide the community with a valuable source of nutritious food, continuing to deliver food to those in need while following best practices recommended by CTAHR food safety experts to minimize risks due to coronavirus,” said extension agent Kalani Matsumura.

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