Inside Look: How Community Nonprofits are using the Arbor Day Foundation Volunteer Center

When The Minnesota Project staff received a phone call from a local fruit tree owner in October 2008 with an excessive amount of apples, they knew they had been presented with an opportunity. As they took a look around their community, they began to grasp how much unpicked and fallen fruit from both orchards and backApplesyards was going to waste. The organization began to take a closer look at how they could distribute this fruit to meet community needs.

Five years later, the Fruits of the City program matched 160 fruit tree owners and 16 orchards with groups of trained volunteers who pick the un-wanted, un-harvested fruit. These volunteers then deliver the fruit to local food shelves, which are often unable to access fresh produce.

The Minnesota Project is using the Arbor Day Foundation Volunteer Center  to recruit volunteers for the Fruits of the City program.

Jared Walhowe, Gleaning Manager, is pleased with how the project has grown. “Despite last year’s drought, our volunteers collected a record of 40,000 pounds of apples and pears, which we then distributed to 31 food shelves and 3 food banks.”

Project Blue River Rescue: Improving Kansas City’s Waterways

Every year for the past 20 years, hundreds of volunteers and city workers in metropolitan Kansas City come together in an effort known as Project Blue River Rescue. Their goal: to clean up piles of trash and illegal dumping out of the Blue River which flows through their city.

Blue River Rescue 2013

Kansas City-area boy scouts take to the Blue River to haul out debris as part of the Project Blue River Rescue 2013. Photo: PBRR Facebook.

Partnering with the Kansas City Public Works, the Missouri Department of Conservation and several local businesses and organizations, Project Blue River Rescue has grown to be Missouri’s largest, one-day conservation cleanup.

“Each year, volunteers have cleaned up thousands of pounds of trash, tires, appliances and even cars,” says Wendy Sangster, Urban Forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Blue River Rescue 2013

Volunteers remove several bags of trash and nuisance honeysuckle from the banks of the Blue River in metro Kansas City, as part of the Project Blue River Rescue 2013. Photo: PBRR Facebook.

More recently, Project Blue River Rescue has also focused on habitat restoration along the river. In April 2013, a group of 20 volunteers organized by the Heartland Tree Alliance, a branch of Bridging the Gap, planted 500 tree seedlings along the Blue River near a baseball complex in southern Kansas City. The seedlings included native species — burr oak, sycamore, pecan and shellbark hickory — all which would have normally grown along the Blue River. Volunteers also worked to remove invasive honeysuckle plants along the waterway to ensure the growth of these new seedlings.

Sangster firmly believes in the longevity of this project and the positive impact it has on the local community. By getting community members involved in the planting, she feels it instills a connection to nature and provides a foundation for advancing environmental stewardship in the greater Kansas City area.

“If a volunteer can do the physical, hard work of planting a tree,” Sangster says, “they are more likely to become ambassadors and tree stewards in their own communities.”
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Mary Sweeney is a program manager at the Arbor Day Foundation.