California church picks, presses fruit to make juice for needy families

By Patty Guerra

MCT Information Services

Published: Friday, Oct. 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

TURLOCK, Calif. — Everyone knows that old saying about what to do when life gives you lemons.

With the donations of several bins of apples, pears, grapes and, yes, lemons — and with the help of a borrowed extractor, Westside Ministries got down to business making juice and cider.

"Our goal is to have enough juice for 100 days of feeding people," said JoLynn DiGrazia, director of the nonprofit, which works with low-income families on the west side of Turlock, Calif.

The Santos and Spycher families donated fruit from their farms. More came from DiGrazia's garden. Some of it had to be gleaned, which got parents and some Westside Ministries children out into the fields. Then the fruit is sorted and placed into an old-fashioned extractor — borrowed from the Bacon-Gemperle farm — which grinds and then mashes it to make juice.

"They get to work hard and make it into something that helps people," said DiGrazia. "It's something that maybe their parents would have taught them, but their parents are working or not in their lives."

The children learn the value of hard work and what it takes to make the food that goes on the table. Westside Ministries keeps its own garden, which yields vegetables served at meals there throughout the year.

Erik Langwell, 12, manned the juicer on a recent Monday under direction from Lydio Banaña, youth director for Westside Ministries.

They worked in the main lower-level room of the facility, while activity swirled around them: Other children and young adults went upstairs to dance classes, tried out for parts in the group's planned haunted orchard for Halloween or prepared dinner in the cafeteria. The organization often serves meals open to anyone.

Erik and his sister, Ashley, put grapes into a grinder, which dropped them into a wooden bucket covered with cheesecloth. Twists of an augerlike device pushed down a flat circular piece of wood on top of the grapes, squeezing the juice into plastic bins below.

"It's fun," said Erik as he rotated the wooden lever that operated the auger. "It's hard and it's fun just to see the way it's made."

The organization started processing juice last year with donated apples, peaches, even watermelons. "That was really good," DiGrazia said. "And we mixed Asian pears with apple juice. That was good, too."

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