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Yakima to Kenya: Apple farmers and a West Valley church raise funds for women and children in Africa

Thanks to a string of intercontinental relationships and the sale of over 6 tons of apples in Yakima to congregants of churches in Washington and Oregon, women, children and even camels in Kenya will soon be receiving an influx of money and other resources to help raise their quality of life.

Members from 21 churches across the Pacific Northwest spent their Saturday morning sorting and bagging apples for Sharing the Harvest, a charity event hosted by Wiley Heights Covenant Church in Yakima. The proceeds from the apple sales, which were bought by members of the churches, go toward funding Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika, a Kenyan organization that funds educational programs for women and children.

Sitting atop a hill overlooking much of the West Valley and Athanum Ridge, the church’s parking lot was dotted with dozens of wooden crates packed with apples. From Fujis to Galas and Granny Smiths, the apples were bagged over the course of little more than an hour with the help of over 100 volunteers.

After receiving initial instructions on how to bag the apples and how to sort them based on quality, the crowd of congregants took to the crates. Families of four and more surrounded the crates, gently bagging and sorting the apples while they talked and joked.

At the far end of the parking lot, kids took turns working an apple press, filtering and bottling gallons of fresh cider for the volunteers. Chunks of apples flew out of the grinder and onto the kids, who looked up to the sky with their mouths open and tongues out as if they were trying to catch snow.

Sharing the Harvest was first held in 2012 when Growing Hope Globally, an organization that uses proceeds from domestic crop sales to fund agricultural projects in developing countries, partnered with Wiley Covenant and its congregation.

Aside from the focus on agriculture, Sharing the Harvest’s proceeds also go toward educational programs for women and children in Kenya. Both mother and child are offered help in the form of tailoring classes, guidance on how to care for livestock and programs on entrepreneurship and literacy.

With a large number of church members being apple farmers, the two organizations decided on a program that would see 14 apple growers donate some of their crops to be sold to partner churches to raise money for Jitokeze.

Since then, Sharing the Harvest has been an annual tradition.

“Given that so many in our congregation were apple farmers, it became clear that apples were a good place to start and it just evolved with a small core group of people passionate about feeding people,” said Ann Snipes, an organizer for Sharing the Harvest.

According to Snipes, this core group of people grew to make up a much larger crowd.

This includes people like Buzz Rowe, a Yakima Covenant Church member. He said being involved with events like Share the Harvest is just the right thing to do.

“Well, God loves this kind of stuff. We are looking out for others and supporting others. It’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Another volunteer, 15-year-old Michael Haughee, traveled with his family from Prosser for the event. Haughee said everyone deserves to have their needs met.

“This is important because there are people who don’t have the money or resources to get their own food. We are able to help and give them the money to stay fed and have their needs met. If we can help, we should help,” Haughee said.

Alma Picazo, a volunteer from Redmond, said it’s simply nice to be able to help people in any way possible.

“Sometimes I think about these very poor countries where many people have nothing to eat or access to resources to help them grow food. To me, it’s nice to be able to help. I know my individual contribution doesn’t do a lot but when we come together, I feel like we can do some good,” Picazo said.

Though it wasn’t planned, Max Finberg, president and CEO of Growing Hope Globally, shared a story about how proceeds from Share the Harvest allowed villagers in Kenya to survive off camel milk during a severe drought.

He said after that, villagers started investing more money in breeding and caring for camels, whose hardiness in the heat played a key role in their survival. Now, he said, the village has a handful of camels.

“In terms of agriculture, the horn of Africa is suffering a drought worse than what we saw in the Yakima Valley this year. This meant a lot of their animals died, their cattle and even their goats. This one village had a camel. That camel provided enough milk to keep the villagers alive,” Finberg said. “Now they have a few camels providing more milk as they wait for something to grow.”

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