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Program dispenses food, gifts

Inez Dooney reached into a giant cardboard box, grabbed a couple of pink Barbie dolls and handed them to the family in front of her.

"That should do it," she said. "Two girls, right?"

The family thanked her and moved down the line, picking up two brown bags of food before heading outside. Dooney smiled and grabbed some more toys from the box for the next family in line.

"Two boys and a girl? Let's see what we can do."

This is Dooney's first year volunteering at the Salvation Army's annual Christmas Food and Toy Assistance Program, designed to provide food and toys to more than 1,600 low-income families in the Medford area during the holiday season.

During the three-day distribution process, the Salvation Army provides assistance for nearly 5,500 individuals, including more than 2,600 children ages 12 and younger. In that short time, the agency will give away a combined total of more than $150,000 in donated food and toys.

"We are so blessed this year," said Kelly Berggren, Salvation Army director of Social Services. "We have 40 percent more people in need this year than last year, but Medford is awesome; we've been able to make sure everybody who is in need is provided for."

This is Berggren's first year organizing the Christmas giveaway, enlisting the help of more than 50 volunteers from local faith organizations to pull it off, including Grace Church of Central Point, the Church of the Nazarene and Table Rock Fellowship.

After registering with the organization, needy families show up to the distribution center to pick up a black garbage bag full of toys and paper bags full of food, including almond butter, fresh produce, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, pears, onions and turkey.

"All the barrels you see around town, all the food drives you see, this is the result," said Leah Landis, a volunteer who helped pack the approximately 3,700 bags of food.

"I think it's awesome," said Alicia Sherman, a mother of three. "Everybody's hurting for money this year."

"My kids are going to be pretty happy," she added. "It's such a blessing, it really is."

Her opinion was echoed by Rachel Mejia, a stay-at-home mother picking up food and toys for her 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

"I love it," she said. "It's a great program; it's helped a lot of people."

"We came here in 1998, and this year is the biggest that people have needed help," said Capt. Martin Cooper, commanding officer of the Salvation Army's Medford Citadel. "The financial giving has been down a bit, and the needs have gone up."

"This is a wonderful service," he added. "It gives people hope. Some people might not have food for Christmas, so I hope the bag of food helps. I hope the bag of toys helps."

Back in the distribution center, Dooney is switching out her empty box for a new one.

"I love this," she said. "I love to serve ... . When I was talking to one of the other boys, he said this was his favorite part of doing service."

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4477 or email holstn@sou.edu.

Salvation Army volunteer Inez Dooney hands out stocking-stuffer toys Monday for the Salvation Army's annual Christmas Food and Toy Assistance Program. - Bob Pennell