Note: This story first ran last summer. The group Mangoes to Share is back at it this summer, and they say they've been scheduling "non-stop" pickups. Organizer Anna Milaeva tells us the owner of one vacant lot has given them carte blanche to pick mangoes from 30 trees on the property. They've been picking other fruit too, like star fruit, lychees and avocados.
Now they're looking for more places to donate to throughout South Florida, and would especially love to hear from smaller pantries and kitchens that would like to receive mangoes. They're hoping to expand into Broward County and need organizers there. They could also use some more garden tools. The group can be reached on Facebook here.
To listen to the mango donation in action, click listen below.
Summer and mangos go hand in hand in South Florida. People with mango trees in their backyards often give the King of Fruit to coworkers and friends.
But these small gifts don't make a dent in the hundreds of mangos growing in people’s backyards. The solution? Some homeowners ignore them and let them overripe until the point of rotting.
That’s when Anna Milaeva got an idea. She was running in the residential areas near Brickell and stumbled upon a mango in someone’s backyard.
“I saw some mangos on the street, and people throwing them away,” she says. The 30-year-old was born in Russia and came to the United States 10 years ago.
Milaeva did what any mango-lover would do. She found a good one and ate it. As she munched on the sweet, and often messy, orange flesh, she says “the idea was born.”
Milaeva founded Mangoes to Share, an organization that collects mangos throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The group then donates them to nearby homeless shelters, such as Camillus House and the Miami Rescue Mission.
About 10 to 15 people – mainly friends of Milaeva’s – volunteer to collect mangos growing in people’s homes.
Mangoes to Share started with a Facebook page, which Milaeva shared and then saw a cascade like mangos dropping one by one.
Milaeva says she doesn’t keep track of how many mangos they’ve collected, but she estimates that it’s in the hundreds of pounds since Mangoes to Share started in 2014.
This summer alone, Mangoes to Share has collected more than 700 pounds of the fruit. Mialeva says this is thanks to frequent posting on social media sites and reaching out to last year’s donors.
One of the biggest mango donors hails from South Miami. Forton Wimbush’s property has about a dozen mango trees that produce more than hundreds of mangos each summer.
“I can’t estimate it. It’s overwhelming at times,” says Wimbush about the number of mangos in his backyard.
Wimbush says he heard about Mangoes to Share from a mutual friend of Milaeva’s.
“A colleague works out with one of her good friends. And I bring in mangoes often to work… and asked if I was interested in donating,” he says.
Wimbush has been living with the mango-ridden home for a little more than two years. The 35-year old attorney and his wife left New Jersey in search of a warmer climate.
He says the mango trees were a big draw. The Wimbush couple can’t recall the last time they bought a mango at a supermarket. They’ve experimented with all kinds of mango recipes, including a mango cake, grilled mangos and mango-infused bourbon.
Wimbush says every morning he tries to collect as many mangos on the ground before he heads to work at a downtown Miami law firm.
“A lot of [the mangos] break and go bad so they would just be going to waste,” he says. “I’m so happy that I can share them with people that are in need.”
Milaeva and her friend Steven Brownlee, a jewelry craftsman by day, stopped by Wimbush’s home one late afternoon in early July.
In a little more than an hour, Milaeva and Brownlee trimmed and picked their way to more than 500 mangos. The pair used a tree trimmer and fruit picker to round up the least ripe ones – often the greenest and most purple in color.
That same day, the Mangoes to Share team gave the mangoes to the Miami Rescue Mission where they were divided between the women’s and men’s shelters, which are based in Wynwood.
The men’s shelter houses more than 350 people, also known as “clients” to staff at the Miami Rescue Mission.
About 250 mangos made it to the daily fresh fruit bin for lunch. Residents have the option to take them whole and prepare them to their liking.
Sam Cheever, 44, was surprised at the size of this batch.
“It’s like they’re on steroids,” says Cheever who has been living with Miami Rescue Mission for "two years, too long."
Mangoes are one of Cheever's favorite fruits. He says it’s been about a month since he had a mango.
The men’s shelter receives fresh fruit daily from local grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, Publix and Fresh Market. The shelter gets between two and 12 mangos a day, according to Mitch Haller, food services coordinator at Miami Rescue Mission.
Cheever says some of the donated mangos, however, are not “nice and firm” like the ones he had with lunch that day.
“Normally, some of the mangos are real beat up and overripe,” he says. “I’m so glad they picked this shelter to give it to.”
Mangoes to Share has also collected mangoes in Hollywood and Boca Raton. As for the future, Milaeva says she wants to continue “spreading the word” and possibly expand to avocados.
“Or any food,” she says. “I mean if people are excited about donating something, we can pick up any food. It doesn’t have to be mangoes necessarily.”
Steven Brownlee collecting mangos at a South Miami home in early July. He's involved with Mangoes to Share, an organization that collects mangos to donate them to homeless shelters. Full story @wlrn coming later this week.
A video posted by Alex Gonzalez (@alexgonz10) on
Aug 5, 2015 at 11:54am PDT