PHOENIX — City officials have transformed about $69,000 in unexpected state funds into two-dozen pallets of meat and peanut butter to feed some of Phoenix's hungriest residents.
Community development block grants that had been used in the 1990s for housing rehabilita-tion for low- and moderate-income residents were returned to the city this year after a handful of the properties sold and the loans were paid back.
Mayor Jeff Bellah said the city was given these options: return the funds to the state, transfer them to a Department of Agriculture certified food pantry, or give them to an agency authorized to provide housing rehabilitation.
With two food banks in town and some 400 citizens utilizing a community dinner twice each month, city officials and local food bank supporters came up with another idea.
"Our only real options were to turn the money over to a housing authority or give to a USDA-type food bank, and we didn't have any of those in Phoenix," Bellah said.
"So we started a conversation and tried to find out if maybe we could figure out a way to keep the money in the community to benefit people who needed it in Phoenix."
State housing authorities told the city the funds could not be transferred directly to non-USDA food pantries, but officials could purchase needed food with them.
"We felt pretty strongly that we would really like this to benefit the people in Phoenix because it was given to Phoenix to begin with and we still have a lot of people in need in this city," Bellah said.
The city was given a short window to use the funds. With help from community volunteers, the Food Project's Karen Jones and First Presbyterian Pastor Mike Foster, Bellah and Ray's Food Place Manager Neil Talley purchased an arsenal of items in short supply and high demand.
Ray's Food Place allowed the food to be bought at 15 percent above cost.
"We bought the protein stuff that doesn't normally get donated, like canned tuna fish and chicken, peanut butter," Bellah said.
"Ray's did a lot of work with their corporate office and they helped us buy the food at a discount."
In the span of a few days, some 24 large pallets of food were sorted into four, six-pallet shipments.
A half dozen pallets will be provided to food pantries every two months for the next eight months.
"So we'll get $17,000 worth of food every other month for the next eight months," Bellah said. "This way we can use it more efficiently at the food banks and spread it out over a longer period of time."
Tally said employees, managers and volunteers coordinated sorting of the four separate shipments, and the grocery store will provide the storage till the supplies are gone.
"It's not very often that we get that kind of an order, and to be able to do something like this was awesome," Tally said.
"We were able to keep it all here in Phoenix, which was very nice. We don't know everybody's financial situation, because when they come into the store they usually have money, but we know there are people out there that need some help."
Food pantries at First Presbyterian and Phoenix Neighborhood Church and the Phoenix Food Project will dispense the food. The block grant funds also will provide supplies for the community dinner, held on the second and fourth Thursdays at First Presbyterian.
For information about available funds for residents in need of housing improvements or repairs, call 541-779-5785.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com