Students’ service teaches holiday lesson
Jacob Anderson, left, Jagger McCollum, Mark Pesek and Caleb Granger, students at St. Mary Catholic School, join Peggy O’Leary with some of the 2,000 oranges they picked from O’Leary’s trees and delivered to Orange Christian Services as part of a recent school service project.
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
Fruit from the Holy Land taught a Christmas-time lesson to several Orange students whose recent service to their community did not go unnoticed.
The short version is that an Orange resident donated fruit from three bounteous orange trees to a local food bank and four teenagers donated their time picking the fruit and delivering it to Orange Christian Services.
“Our students enter to learn, and they leave to serve,” Cynthia Jackson, principal of St. Mary Catholic School, said when asked about the efforts of eighth-graders Caleb Granger, Mark Pesek, Jacob Anderson and Jagger McCollum.
The longer version begins with Doug Pruter, Jr., who along with younger brother James ran Orange’s Pruter Flowers for many decades.
Doug Pruter built the house on Adams Bayou where Peggy O’Leary now lives. In the yard are three huge orange trees, special orange trees, O’Leary learned.
Her next-door neighbor, the late Dr. Howard Williams, a noted Orange historian, told her the trees were special, not of the homegrown variety for which Orange was named.
“Dr. Williams repeatedly said, ‘Ah, the orange trees. Those oranges’ birthplace was in the Holy Land. They were very lovingly transplanted by Doug and they were his legacy to Orange,’” O’Leary said.
The Holy Land, of course, is that area of the Middle East between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea which is considered holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
It was home to Jesus, whose birth Christians celebrate as Christmas.
The transplanted orange trees took off in their new home in Texas.
“They were the most abundant producing orange trees I’ve ever seen,” she said. “They do it every year, regardless of the neglect I’ve shown them.”
A year ago, O’Leary’s trees yielded more than 2,000 oranges and she decided to donate them to Orange Christian Services, which operates a food pantry at 2518 West Park Ave.
O’Leary knows there were 2,000 oranges last year – because she picked them all.
“It’s just such a blessing, a wonderful thing to add to our food orders,” Judy Jensen, executive director for Orange Christian Services, said.
So for 2016, her second year to donate her orange crop to OCS, O’Leary came up with a better way to pick her mini-orchard.
“I decided I needed some help, so I mentioned it to a boy at church.”
From church, the request made its way to St. Mary Catholic school and art teacher Cindy Claybar, who decided the project would translate into a good service project.
That brought parent/delivery driver Shelby Granger and the four students to O’Leary’s door on a Friday afternoon earlier this month.
“I’ve never seen kids so energetic in doing a service project,” O’Leary said.
“I really appreciate the children doing that. It took me three or four days to pick all those oranges last year. Those boys did it in three to four hours.”
In all, they filled 16 bags with oranges. O’Leary estimated each bag held 100 to 150 oranges. That’s more than a quarter-ton of fruit.
And then the students’ lesson continued when they delivered the fruit to the food bank.
“I want to thank Mrs. O’Leary for getting those boys involved,” said OCS’ Jensen.
“First, I don’t believe they’d ever picked oranges before, and then to have them come see the work we do, it was just a win-win and such a blessing for us. “Many of us would never have to walk into the doors of an organization that gives out food or clothing,” Jensen said. “This was laying a foundation for them at a very early age that people need various help in their lives.”
For her part, O’Leary deferred to her helpers.
“I just happened to have the oranges,” she said. “The story is about these kids.”