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Food Angels

Two events, one at home and another on the other side of the world, led a local woman to become a food angel, and thousands of hungry people in Southern Oregon are better off because of it.

In the mid-1990s, Pamala Joy was moved by the famine in Africa, while at the same time she took notice of the closing of two landfills in the Rogue Valley.

"Those two things made me want to do something," she says. "The connection was all the food being thrown away in the U.S."

As a result, Joy formed an organization in Ashland called "Food for People," which is now known as "Food Angels." Joy started out by picking up 100 pounds of potatoes for Northwest Seasonal Workers that were donated by Gepetto's Restaurant in Ashland. The act quickly became a weekly event.

"I didn't feel like I was doing enough, and talked to all my baker friends, who were happy for me to pick up their day-olds," says Joy, who has bachelor's degree in theater and lived in Europe for 19 years, where she taught clowning, mime, movement and street theatre.

"Then I connected with Tom Cantwell (owner of the former Cantwell's Market in Ashland), a generous, wonderful person, and started pick-ups one day a week from the store. By the end of the year, I was going seven days a week, picking up four to 14 banana boxes full of food each day."

Joy spent three to four hours a day sorting food, then made deliveries to single moms and the elderly, Head Start, Northwest Seasonal Workers, the Ashland Senior Center and to Peace House's "Uncle Food's Diner," a community free meal provided every Tuesday afternoon at the Methodist Church in Ashland.

A call from a teacher at Ashland High School revealed another venue.

"They called and said kids were going to school with no money and no food, and their teachers were buying them lunches. So I started dropping off fruits, muffins, yogurts, snack foods — kid-friendly food — twice a week," says Joy.

After five years of doing everything on her own, she started asking for help from friends and donors. There are now 60 volunteer food angels and a waiting list to get on as a volunteer.

Food angels pick up donations three days a week at area farmers' markets, from Fry Family Farm, Blue Fox Farm, Whistling Duck Farm, Meadowlark Farm, Barking Moon Farm and others; bakeries, including New Sammy's, Village Baker and Apple Cellar Bakery; restaurants, such as Gepetto's, Greenleaf, Grilla Bites, Global Pantry, Munchie's, Mix, and Four and Twenty Blackbirds; and grocers, including Market of Choice, Shop 'N' Kart and Ashland Food Co-op.

Deliveries are made to the places noted above, as well as to children's events, American Indian groups, environmental groups, Access Inc. and the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, where in 2008 Food Angels delivered 20,000 pounds of bread alone.

Joy received an award for her work from Rural Initiatives in 2003, was named Ashland Volunteer of the Year in 2005, and was given a special Angel Award grant in 2004 by Ashland Food Co-op, "because she does so many things for the community," said Annie Hoy, outreach and owner services manager for the Co-op.

Approximately 25 organizations in Jackson County collect and distribute food to needy people, and Joy has advice for anyone who wants to help: Plant a garden, says Joy, who lived for six years at Findhorn, an eco-village in Scotland, where she worked in the kitchens and gardens and studied nutrition.

"It's one of the best things we can do in our lives," she says. "And if you have extra bounty, please donate it."

Cyndi Trujillo, 17, one of Pamala Joy's Food Angels. - Photo by Jim Craven