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Emergency food bank leans on donations in lean time

Five Ashland High School students stood outside Market of Choice Wednesday asking for food. "If you can, donate a can," their sign said.

The food wasn't for them, but it may benefit some of their neighbors or friends at school.

As more Ashlanders lose their jobs or homes, fewer are able to donate and more are in need of donations, said Ann Marie Hutson, president of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

After serving a record 1,128 Ashland and Talent residents in November, the food bank has continued to give groceries to more than 1,000 locals each month.

"Our numbers served rise weekly. We are looking for ways to collect as much food as we can to serve these rising needs," Hutson said Thursday.

Spurred by the need for more donations, Hutson and other food bank officials are coming up with creative ways for community members to help.

For the first time ever Hutson has placed donation bins in Ashland grocery stores. As of this week, Albertsons, Ashland Food Cooperative, Bi-Mart, Dollar Tree, Market of Choice and Shop'n Kart already have bins located near their entrances. Hutson is waiting to get the green light from Safeway managers to put a bin in the store, she said.

Hutson hopes that people will see the bins when they enter the stores and will buy something for the food bank along with their regular groceries. So far, her strategy appears to be working. After just one day, a bin inside Albertsons was half full, Hutson said.

"It benefits the store and it benefits the food bank at the same time," she said. "It's an easy way for the community to help."

Hutson is also trying to more effectively recruit volunteers to staff the food bank. In January the nonprofit appointed its first volunteer coordinator, who will hold training meetings twice per month for those interested in helping out.

And, after years of having volunteers from only nine Ashland churches staff the food bank, another church has joined the nonprofit's efforts: Ashland Christian Fellowship.

Even Ashland High School students are choosing to spend free time collecting donations for the food bank. About once a month students in the school's leadership class will stand in front of Ashland grocery stores collecting food, as they did Wednesday, said 17-year-old Ami Jacobson, the school's student body representative and secretary.

Other leadership students planned to hold a pancake breakfast for students at the high school before class starts today and will give all of the proceeds from the event to the food bank, Jacobson said.

Although the food the students collected Wednesday wasn't for them, they were thankful each time they received a can, knowing that the donation would help to stave off hunger in Ashland, Jacobson said. By the end of the day, the students had collected three boxes worth of food, which they dropped off at the food bank today.

"I have to say it was really satisfying," Jacobson said. "It just felt really good to be doing something that will help the community. You just feel good when people say, 'Yes.'"

For more information on the food bank or to volunteer, call 261-5700.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.