The Sun City Garden Club kicked off its 7th annual Citrus Drive Tuesday morning, collecting fruit from around the community to benefit St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance.

The club will be collecting oranges, grapefruits and lemons at four locations until March 12, hoping for 500,000 pounds of fruit.

Citrus Drive coordinator Pete Petersen said people can also buy a unique fruit picker of his design for $10 at each site; the new pickers are more efficient and easier to use than traditional cage pickers, providing an option for Sun Citians who want to glean their own fruit.

Garden Club volunteers can also glean fruit for members of the community who cannot do it themselves.

Last year, Petersen said the group collected 419,000 pounds of citrus, totalling over 2 million pounds since the drive started in 2002.

“This is our big project,” Petersen said. “We feel this is a club that nobody else in the country does what we do.”

Jerry Brown, St. Mary’s communications specialist, said he thinks this year will be a good one for oranges, but the gleaning season has begun slowly because of chilly weather in December and January.

The Garden Club is St. Mary’s biggest citrus contributor, Brown said.

“We glean about 2 million pounds of citrus every year, and they are responsible for a quarter of it,” he said.

The Citrus Drive drop off locations are in the parking lots of Sundial Recreation Center, 14801 N. 103rd Ave.; Marinette Recreation Center, 9860 West Union Hills Drive; Bell Recreation Center, 16820 N. 99th Ave.; and the Sun Bowl 10220 N. 107th Ave. Lemons, grapefruits and oranges will be collected from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

If you are interested in having your citrus trees gleaned by the club, contact the office on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday mornings at 623-875-5921.

After the success of St. Mary’s “Super Citrus Saturday” event in January, in which 60,000 pounds of citrus was collected, the food bank is holding follow up drive Feb. 26, called the “Super Duper Citrus Saturday.”

People can drop off their extra fruit from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at three locations, including one in the West Valley: the Surprise location of St. Mary’s at 13050 W. Elm St.

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