Food from the heart. Food for all. The Food Project just keeps rolling along.
Local activists' dream of ending community hunger took another solid step when Food Project volunteers collected their biggest haul to date Saturday, Dec. 8.
Neighborhood coordinators distribute reusable green bags to participants, who then buy one extra nonperishable item each week and store it in the bag. Every two months, volunteers pick up the bags of food and leave empty bags so neighbors can start saving food again.
The next Food Project pickup day is Saturday, Feb. 9.
How you can join
For information or to join as a neighborhood coordinator, pickup volunteer or a food donor in the Medford, Jacksonville or Central Point areas, see MedfordFoodProject.com or call 541-210-8288.
In the Ashland area, see AshlandFoodProject.com or call 541-488-6976.
In Talent or Phoenix, see TalentFoodProject.com or call 541-708-1520.
In Eagle Point, see EaglePointFoodProject.com or call 541-210-8288.
The last weekend of Food Project collections for Jackson County in 2012 "was the most amazing we've had," said John Javna, project coordinator.
Food picked up countywide on that single day surpassed 64,000 pounds, he added.
"Imagine that," Javna said. "Thirty-two tons of food, one green bag at a time."
The single day's breakdown included nearly 30,000 pounds from Medford, Jacksonville and Central Point, 24,500 from Ashland, 3,500 from Talent, more than 4,000 from Eagle Point and more than 2,500 from Phoenix, he said.
"The level of commitment by Food Project participants is what makes this successful and what is making it sustainable," Javna said.
"After seeing what we've accomplished this year, I'm quite sure that 10 years from now, the Food Project will still be going strong, delivering food and other services to our neighbors who need assistance."
The Food Project began in Ashland in January 2009, and a few thousand pounds were collected in that first year. But Ashland volunteers collected 123,000 pounds of food in 2012, he said.
This is the Medford Food Project's second year, Javna said. More than 140,000 pounds were collected this year, a 50 percent increase over 2011, he added.
"Here's the topper," Javna said. "The total for the year collected in Jackson County alone was more than 300,000 pounds of food."
The success of the burgeoning grassroots program stems from 6,000 dedicated volunteers who fill, pick up and distribute the food collected in the projects' bright green bags, he said.
Jacksonville neighborhood coordinator Karen Starchvick got an email from a pair of neighboring donors who wish to remain anonymous.
"They wanted to let me know they were leaving on vacation this week, before the food pickup, and wondered if I would mind picking up their donation early. When I got to their house, they excitedly opened the trunk of their car to show me their "Black Friday" shopping," Starchvick said.
The couple had gone to Walmart with the "most needed items" list for the Food Project and purchased everything on the list, she said.
"I helped them bag it all up in eight green bags," Starchvick said, adding she applauded their decision to shop for those less fortunate on the nation's biggest shopping day.
Kaye Caulkins and Kris Howard are Food Project leaders in Eagle Point. Caulkins said they had a banner day Dec. 8, collecting nearly 4,500 pounds of food from 309 households.
"It went very smoothly, as we had lots of help at the pantry for off-loading and weighing," Caulkins said.
One new neighborhood coordinator brought in 648 pounds of food from 42 households. Another brought 394 pounds from 32 households, she said.
In fact, their collection efforts were so successful that the church pantry ran out of space and boxes to store all the Food Project collections. Pantry organizer Don Laatsch and Caulkins "had to bring some of the food home to store for a few weeks," she said.
It's a substantial gift to our hungry neighbors, Javna said, adding the quality of the food people donate "is quite high."
"Cereal, tomato sauce, tuna, peanut butter," Javna said.
The project is starting to address other needs, Javna said. In Phoenix, they're experimenting with collecting diapers, which go to the Healthy Start program for mothers, he said.
The Food Project is rolling out in other Oregon counties and across the United States, Javna said.
Roseburg's Food Project picked up about 8,000 pounds. And in Chico, Calif., more than 5,000 pounds of food were collected, he said.
New Food Projects are beginning in Cottage Grove, Auburn, Ala., and West Palm Beach, Fla., Javna said.
"Jackson County residents have created something remarkable that appeals to the best in people and proves to the rest of the country that people really will help each other in a big way if you just make it easy enough to do," Javna said.
To learn more about the Food Project, see neighborhoodfoodproject.com or call 541-210-8288.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.