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After Hours: Lauren Little—Making fruit available to those in need

Lauren Little, owner of two Edible Arrangement franchises in Jacksonville, creates fresh fruit bouquets as part of her business. But what she likes to create most are healthy feelings in the homeless at the Clara White Mission (www.ClaraWhiteMission.org).

“Having worked with the homeless before and having that prior experience of seeing that people are hungry and children are hungry, I knew that once I opened my business, and we have what I like to refer to as excess fruit versus waste, that it needed to be donated  to someone,” says Little.

 “It is still good quality fruit. Just because it may not be large enough for us to put on our bouquets or a pineapple was miscut doesn’t mean it should be thrown away. Someone can still eat it.”

Making the donation

Pineapples, strawberries, honey dew, and cantaloupe are among the 25 pounds to 30 pounds of fruit that gets donated and delivered to the Mission every day by Little or someone on her staff.

Little says she doesn’t mind paying her staff the extra 30 minutes to 40 minutes to go down there and make that delivery because, to her, it’s important someone gets to eat.

“It makes me smile when people run to the truck when we drop off the fruit,” says Little. “They unload it, dump my fruit in their bins, and then wash out and put my bins back—all while being very appreciative.”

Once the delivery is made, the Mission takes over from there and cuts it down and uses it whichever way they see fit—whether it’s to serve the hungry or be used in its culinary program.

Filling a need

Little says the Mission pretty much has everything they need for a meal—the meat, potatoes, vegetables, and drinks—but while serving at the Mission the first year before she bought her  business, Little found it interesting that they didn’t have any fruit.

Now she finds it very moving when she walks around somewhere downtown and has her Edible Arrangement hat and shirt on and someone says, “I’ve eaten your fruit. You donate to the Clara White Mission.”

 “Because they don’t get to have fruit, it’s their treat,” says Little. “Whereas for me, it’s just my business—but I have no business throwing it away when I know it’s going to be something nutritional for someone else, and they really appreciate it.”

The choice was clear

Little chose the Clara White Mission for a couple of reasons. One reason is it is convenient to her two locations (The Shoppes of Avondale and The Shoppes at Bartram Park) with its downtown location. The other, more important reason is it has a culinary program with a kitchen.

 “A lot of food banks don’t have a kitchen,” says Little. “And so with freshly cut fruit, there is no means to care for it. I felt that this was something the Clara White Mission could use and have been told our fruits are in the pies and the things they bake.”

The recession has seen a lot of people trying to make ends meet and the Mission’s food lines have gotten a lot longer as a result, so it uses the fruit for those recipients as well.

Going forward

While most people think about the needy most around Thanksgiving and Christmas time, Little would love to get people to do more when the donations and efforts are fewer.

“I think it’s important for anybody in business to figure out how they can help someone, whether it’s mentoring someone young or another business owner,” says Little.

She realized it’s tough for a lot people on their P&L, but for her, the reward is knowing that at the end of the day somebody’s going to go to bed with some fruit in their belly—even if that’s the only thing they’ve eaten all day. “It’s something small for me to do, but for the recipient it’s something big for them.”

“You never know if you are ever going to be in that line someday,” says Little. “I would hope that if I ever have to be on the receiving end that somebody has decided that it was worth paying an employee an extra 30 minutes so I could have something to eat today.”

  

What is the Clara White Mission?

For over 100 years, the Clara White Mission has helped Jacksonville’s at-risk individuals gain new perspectives on life. The Mission has been the one-stop community center stimulating economic development through job training in educational programs, daily feedings, advancement, and more.

It offers a 20-week culinary curriculum designed to offer students an opportunity to practice their skills in an environment that will prepare them for a career in the industry.


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