LosRios dump apples

Volunteers dump "windfall" apples into a bin — apples that have fallen to the ground but can be used for cider if their not too far gone.

During the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 2, a fire reduced the buildings at Los Rios Rancho in Oak Glen to ashes. The devastation was complete and could have infected the Los Rios family had it not been for their personal faith and the vast community of friends and family coming to their aid.

In less than one week after the smoke cleared, all debris have been removed and the site cleared, with the exception of a sequestered area still under investigation to determine the origin and cause of the fire. But even more stunning than the new palate on which Los Rios will rebuild, was the flow of volunteers arriving to help.

From as far away as San Diego to those living nearby in the Inland Empire, volunteers arrived for one of two daily shifts starting at 10 a.m. and another at 2 p.m. to help with the ranch work.

Earlier during the week following the fire, volunteers helped with cleanup, but on Thursday, Oct. 8, picking up “windfall” apples was the task at hand. A “windfall” is a piece of fruit that falls to the ground that can be salvaged for cider if not mushy or sunburned. The windfalls must be firm and checked for severe sunburning that affects the taste of the final product. The several filtrations during the pressing process removes other blemishes, seeds and other imperfections such as worm holes.

“It’s really easy work and fun for the kids helping their parents,” one observer noted. Shauna Houston, a young mom, read about the need for volunteers from her Facebook feed and brought her three children — 12-year-old Kiera, 7-year-old Liam and 6-year-old Piper — to help at the ranch.

Shauna’s kids loved being in the depths of the Los Rios orchard where few visitors ever get to see apples clustered on the trees. They helped pick windfalls in buckets that were deposited into apple bins loaded on a trailer that totaled 8,000 pounds the day before. What doesn’t make it into the apple bins for cider becomes mulch for the orchard.

Volunteers are welcomed from now until the end of the season. Helpers can simply show up at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., but it’s helpful to register online prior to coming so ranch hand and manager of volunteers, Nick Battelo, knows how many people he can count on. In the coming days, a need for building contractors to repair the two-story refrigerator building will be needed.

To register online, go to losriosrancho.com/los-rios-fire and scroll down to the black tab labeled “Open Form,” and fill out the information. Cherie Riley, the Los Rios DOVE (Director of Volunteer Efforts) will receive contact information from the forms filled out online. Look for her or another staff person on the lawn at the Eastside entrance of the Ranch.

When a community like Oak Glen suffers a loss like the historic Los Rios Rancho, people and businesses come together just like the volunteers who arrive daily to help. Los Rios is using the kitchen at the Christian Conference Center for their pie baking; and their cider is being pressed at Laws. There’s a timeless truth that “many hands make light work.” Nothing could be more true of what is happening right now at Los Rios thanks to you.

How to help

On this website page is also a “GoFundMe” tab, started by Tina Skousen, sister of Cherie Riley and an Esri employee. As of Thursday, Oct. 8, this fundraiser is more than halfway to its goal of $100,000 to help Los Rios recoup losses not covered by insurance.

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