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Food for the hungry

A whopping 40,250 pounds of good old-fashioned comfort food were distributed to area food banks in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties on Wednesday.

Now in its seventh year, the annual project meant eight food banks were given a total of 40,000 pounds of potatoes from Wong Potatoes in Klamath Falls and 250 pounds of cheese from Rogue Creamery.

Rainy skies did little to dampen the spirit of Grange Co-Op volunteers who coordinated the donations after the company covered half the price of the potatoes and provided flatbed trucks for delivery, said co-op employee and impromptu potato deliveryman Norm Rush.

Rush said while the 40,000 potatoes is a large amount of food, the 250 pounds of cheese is equally impressive.

“It’s just such a great partnership. The Rogue Creamery ties in with this event every year. Forty thousand pounds of potatoes is an awful lot, but 250 pounds of world-winning cheeses is pretty special, too,” Rush said.

Rush said the potatoes and cheese donation is one of myriad community projects the co-op assists with year round, and “not just at the holidays.”

Francis Plowman, Rogue Creamery's marketing and merchandising director, said the cheese factory was excited to be included in helping local residents in need.

“I think it’s nice when local businesses get together and support the area. We’ve always supported the food banks in a less formal way, and all year long, whether it be through ACCESS or (other local groups),” Plowman said.

Plowman said the creamery and the potato supplier had both “upped the ante” by increasing the donated amount each year and that they hoped to challenge other businesses to support local food banks, too.

Debbie Christian, food pantry president for St. Vincent de Paul, said the locally grown potatoes and cheeses were a special treat for hungry families.

“It was great to get so many potatoes. As soon as we started putting them out, people were taking bags of potatoes and getting the cheeses, too,” she said.

“Everything helps and we’re lucky to have a lot of community support. We rarely get cheese, so that’s always a nice treat for our families.”

Wong Potatoes, Inc. sales manager Ken Rutledge said his company, too, felt that community support was a year-round effort.

“Ever since I came to this company, they’ve always been big on giving donations to the local community. I don’t think anybody even thinks about it anymore. It’s just what we do,” Rutledge said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Norm Rush, left, and Rich Rockseth of the Grange Co-op help unload a truck filled with potatoes at ACCESS Inc. in Medford on Wednesday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch