Use your eyes and maybe you, too, could be up to your eyeballs (happily) preserving give-away produce.
I spied a "FREE APRICOTS" sign in my neighborhood, directing me to a brimming orchard on a pretty, dead-end lane. I'm so grateful for the generosity of this stranger. The apricots were big and rosy. I picked only what I knew I could use, not wanting to waste. I suspect that's why the stranger posted the "FREE" sign in the first place, not wanting to waste.
I'll be reminded of this act of good stewardship every time I open a bottle. (Which will be often. My tally for 20 minutes of picking is 14 quarts of apricots, 6 cup-size jars of apricot syrup, and 22 pints of apricot pineapple jam*. Phew!)
It pays to keep your eyes open. Have you noticed fruit trees in your neighborhood that never seem to get harvested?
One year I wanted to try making a wreath of spiced dried apple slices, but taking into account our income as newlywed college students, the amount of apples I'd need was a frivolous expense. Meanwhile I saw that apples were collecting on the ground beneath a tree on my street. I knocked on the door, introduced myself and asked the owner if he'd consider letting me buy some of those apples for use in my project. The kind elderly man was surprised at my interest. I got a sense that he was once very proud of his tree, and wished his physical health allowed him to better care for it. Mostly, I think he was surprised to see a friendly face at his door. No one, he said, ever came by. I picked some apples for him, ones he could not reach.
Another season I noticed fruit pooling under a pear tree at a daycare business. I looked it up in the phone book, called and asked if anyone used the fruit, and if not, could I buy what I picked? Again, the person I talked to was incredulous -- but equally obliging. I'd actually be doing the daycare a favor because every FREE pear I picked meant one less to fall into the playground and make a mess. (The only drawback to my plan was that I needed my husband to help me with the ladder, since I was pregnant that year. He hates my "crazy schemes." Nonetheless, he lapped up all the pear butter I made.)
Of course, please don't harvest anything without permission. I think you'll find, though, that people are often delighted to share.
*Click here for the apricot pineapple jam recipe.