San Diego’s fruit swap captures spirit of neighbors helping neighbors during coronavirus crisis

Marcela Talavera gives free bags of fruit to passing vehicles on El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights on Wednesday.
Marcela Talavera gives free bags of fruit to passing vehicles on El Cajon Boulevard during Wednesday’s fruit swap in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

All the loquats that grow on Marcela Talavera’s fruit trees don’t make it to the kitchen table.

The natural abundance of Talavera’s trees encouraged the resident of National City, in southwest San Diego County, to donate fruit from her yard to a fruit swap — where people can drop off produce and those in need can pick it up for free — in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood.

Business owners, community organizations and residents joined forces in early April to run a weekly fruit swap at the public open space Fair@44 to help those in need during the coronavirus crisis.

The idea is simple: Neighbors with fruit trees or gardens can drop off produce at the lot on El Cajon Boulevard between 10 a.m. and noon, and neighbors in need can pick it up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or until supplies last.

Talavera donated loquats, kumquats, oranges, tangerines and lemons Wednesday. She collected the fruit from her own trees as well as from neighbors in National City.


She said the event speaks to the community’s “neighbor helping neighbor” mentality.

“It’s a community,” Talavera said. “We go through hardships together.”

Beryl Forman sorts and bags donated fruit in City Heights to hand out to residents in need at a fruit swap Wednesday.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Assn. started the fruit swap two weeks ago. It is partnering with the Dojo Cafe, UrbanLife Farms, Art Form Swap Meet, neighborhood groups and elected officials.

The association will hold the fruit swap every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, said Beryl Forman, marketing and mobility coordinator with the El Cajon Boulevard business group.

Volunteers have distributed more than 200 bags of produce since April 15, she said.

Donations made Wednesday included oranges, tangerines, carrots, lemons and grapefruits. Neighbors also dropped off other items such as masks and a bag of cilantro.

Forman and five other volunteers separated the donations into brown paper bags and handed them out to people walking or driving by the lot.

Two men leave a fruit swap in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood
Two men leave with the produce they picked up from a fruit swap Wednesday in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood.
(Jarrod Valliere / San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I think right now everyone needs uplifting,” Forman said.

City Heights resident Anna Portillo was driving by when she saw the volunteers handing out fruit. She parked and walked over to pick up a bag with oranges, carrots and lemons.

Portillo’s husband was laid off because of the pandemic, she said, so they are worried about paying rent in May. She said they are taking advantage of various food distribution events in San Diego, and she was happy to see volunteers giving out fruit.


“I think this is a great thing,” Portillo said. “If you have an abundance of fruit … the most important thing right now is not to waste.”

Aside from the donations by neighbors, the groups also received donations from grocery stores and markets, such as Sin Lee Foods, Mama’s Bakery & Deli, Bluxom Salon, UrbanLife Farms, Cafe Madeleine and El Borrego Restaurant.

Lopez-Villafaña writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.