By Thailan Pham Susan Young
May 30, 2011 12:00 PM

ANNA CHAN, 38 Clayton, Calif.

It’s been 25 years, but Anna Chan is still haunted by the memories of standing in food lines. Raised by a single mom in Hayward, Calif., who worked part-time delivering newspapers, Chan and her sister spent more than a decade subsisting on canned goods, fruit punch and other handouts from the Salvation Army and local churches. “My daily meal was usually out of a can,” she says. “A bowl of fresh fruit was considered a luxury.”

Chan couldn’t help but think of those hungry years while driving around her neighborhood 45 miles east of San Francisco three years ago. Shocked to discover oranges, lemons and apricots rotting in her neighbors’ yards, the stay-at-home mom vowed to collect the fruit and donate it to people in need. Since then, Chan-known locally as the Lemon Lady ( a dozen volunteers have harvested 250 tons of fruits and vegetables, valued at $600,000, donated by neighbors and nearby farmers. Clocking more than 40 hours a week, she picks up the produce at all hours of the day and drops it off at food banks-with her daughter Ava, 4, often in tow. “Anna allows us to have food we could never afford,” says Kathy Walters, 66, a regular at Share Food Pantry in Concord, Calif. “She has absolutely saved us.”