Student leaders collaborate with Riverside Farmers Market to donate fresh produce to the R’Pantry

As part of her senator project, ASUCR School of Public Policy Senator and President Pro Tempore Preeti Juturu is working with CALPIRG Zero Hunger Initiative Director Kate Castillo to establish a collaboration with the Riverside Farmers Market to donate excess food from the farmers market to the R’Pantry. Castillo and Juturu are working to create a food recovery program where the leftover produce from local farmers markets is donated to the R’Pantry.

Juturu and Castillo are working with Oscar De Leon, the director of the Riverside Farmers Market. In an interview with The Highlander, De Leon stated that when he was initially asked to help the R’Pantry, “We were more than happy to support … When it comes to food access we want to make it accessible for everybody.” De Leon, who organizes multiple farmers markets in the Riverside region, said that he had authorized the Riverside Farmers Market to give UCR the excess produce. De Leon stated, “We are very excited to give back to the community.”

“As an R’Pantry volunteer, the items that constantly run out are fresh produce,” said Juturu. She expressed that it is a challenge for Riverside to access affordable and fresh produce compared to other regions due to the fact that this area is in what is considered to be a food desert. A food desert a region defined as devoid of fresh fruit, vegetables and other whole foods.Juturu stated, “Last spring, CALPIRG held an event where they provided free fruit cups to students before finals week, and all of the fruits were donated by farmers.” She said that they received a large supply of mangoes, watermelons, apples and other fresh foods that were going to be thrown out by farmers; because of this, the farmers were willing to donate them to the R’Pantry.

“Our initiative is extremely simple: to collect leftover produce from farmers markets on a consistent basis and give it to R’Pantry,” said Juturu. She added that this program would consistently provide the R’Pantry with fresh produce every week.

Regarding the process of advancing the initiative, Juturu stated in an email that they would send volunteers to the farmers markets to drop off donation crates, which is where farmers would leave their leftover produce. She said that when the farmers markets end, volunteers would take these crates, bring them to UCR, clean the produce and store them for R’Pantry distribution. Juturu said that the participating farmers are more than willing to provide donations.

Juturu said that she and Castillo are going to meet with the UCR Basic Needs Coordinator Megan Harbert to discuss the logistics and plan for the initiative. Juturu stated that they are working to find a way to finance the program in regard to certain factors, such as gas. Juturu said, “Our hope is to institutionalise this initiative so it continues on a consistent basis and expands so we can obtain produce donations from more local farmers markets.” She stated, “Considering how high the food insecurity rate is on our campus, this initiative would assist with alleviating this issue and provide students with nutritional food.”

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