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Farmer donates entire harvest to Salvation Army

CUMBERLAND — Lou Simmons believes that if every farmer were to donate a small portion of each harvest to the poor, no one would go hungry in America.

Simmons, who recently turned 84, is doing his part by donating every single apple, pear, peach and cherry from his modest orchard atop Irons Mountain to the Salvation Army in Cumberland. Salvation Army volunteers distribute more than 30,000 pounds of fruit from the Simmons orchard each year.

Kitty Willison, director of social services at the Salvation Army on East First Street in South Cumberland, said the fresh fruit adds to the agency’s food pantry and is a highly desired commodity each season.

“Something like that would be a little different,” Willison said. “A lot of times (clients) will ask us if we have fresh fruit or vegetables.”

On Friday, eight young men from the Green Ridge Youth Center in Flintstone toiled under the supervision of Mark Miller, resident adviser, on a cool and breezy morning. Simmons expected that over a four-hour period, the youth center crew would pick and pack into small boxes approximately 2,000 pounds of apples. Maybe more.

The adjudicated youth are not being named due to their status as minors. However, they were pleasantly surprised at the variety and the taste of apples of various sizes.

“Is this edible?” one young man asked.

After Simmons sighed, smiled with patience and assured him it was, the boy took a hesitant bite.

“Actually, it’s pretty good,” the boy said before heading to the nearest apple tree.

It wasn’t long ago when Simmons, believing he was nearing the age of retirement, envisioned an empty orchard and planned to cut down his trees. He credits Judy Hodel, director of the youth center, in saving both the orchard and people in need from going hungry.

“When she found out, she says, Don’t you dare,'” Simmons said. “Without her, there’d be no more orchard.”

Simmons used the opportunity to chat with the boys he loves to tell a tale and suggest that they use their time at the youth camp wisely.

“I don’t know what you did and I don’t care,” Simmons told the group while on a short break. “Get yourselves straight. Work hard.”

Hodel believes the work and the atmosphere serve the boys well. She credited Simmons with sending the camp some apples to share with everyone, providing the work crew lunch “plus lots of stories.”

“It’s a beautiful place,” Hodel said of the Simmons orchard. “It’s a place of serenity in its own right.”

The boys, Hodel said, “get a sense of helping other people. They get a work ethic. They get some teamwork skills (and) social time that’s not out getting into trouble on the streets. A lot of them probably have never experienced an apple orchard.”

Hodel is thankful Simmons is willing to keep the orchard operational.

“He does a great service,” Hodel said. “He feeds people with his apples. He donates everything he has. I hate to see that get lost.”