Ryan Chartrand

A local chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers donated 164 olive trees to a group of American soldiers in Iraq this holiday season.

Master Sgt. Patricia Marsano from the United States Army Reserves contacted the California Rare Fruit Growers and asked for a donation of olive trees to plant around their base.

“The soldiers decided it would be nice to leave something in this town as a good gesture,” said Art DeKleine, co-chair of the California Rare Fruit Growers and professor emeritus in the Cal Poly Mathematics Department. “It is one of those nice things that one group of people does for another, and I think that is why everybody jumped on the bandwagon.”

Joe Sabol, a member of the California Rare Fruit Growers and retired professor in the agriculture education department, rallied together local community members to begin a fundraiser for the olive trees, a symbol of peace to people around the world.

An anonymous donor sent a check to the organization to pay for all 164 olive trees, Sabol said.

“It has wonderful symbolism,” DeKleine said. “It drew a lot of people together and it is just the kind of good spirit that one would like to see.”

Sabol also had to receive permission from the military to send the trees to the base and find the most cost-effective method of shipping the trees.

FedEx joined the event by shipping all the plants to Iraq for free and in time for the scheduled planting on Dec. 23.

“That same day, we decided we wanted to plant some trees here at the same time to let them know we were thinking of them,” Sabol said. “It was just a nice way to connect with the soldiers for doing a nice thing.”

On Dec. 23, Sabol along with the California Rare Fruit Growers, military families, a FedEx representative and local community members came together and planted 12 trees along Foothill Boulevard across from This Old House restaurant.

The event gained national recognition from CNN news and Marsano was made an honorary member of the local California Rare Fruit Growers chapter.

“It’s really a gift from the military to the people of Iraq because someday they are going to give that base back to the Iraqi people,” Sabol said. “It was really a kind of inspirational thing.”

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