Free, high-quality produce donations are so rare in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, US, that Stacy Serrano, vice president of the Rural Community Initiative Foundation (RCIF), through it was too good to be true when she received a call offering free fresh fruits and vegetables from the California-based advocacy group Vegan Outreach. “Honestly, I thought he was fibbing,” laughs Serrano. Yuri Mitzkewich, the Vegan Outreach program leader who made the call, was shocked when he visited Tahlequah; fresh food was hard to find, and dollar stores were the only place to buy groceries for miles around. Since 2020, Cherokee Nation residents have been able to access produce at two Tahlequah community centers that receive fruits and vegetables from Vegan Outreach and its partner, Food Forward, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that aggregates surplus produce from growers and shippers in Southern California that might otherwise go to waste. Serrano says that thinking about the fresh produce provided to RCIF recipients brings her to tears. Mitzkewich still cherishes numerous thank-you notes from those who received donations through the Tahlequah community centers.

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