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Food for Hope drive helps feed Ashland families

For full-time dad Brian Cauley and his blended family of eight, the holiday food box he gets from Ashland Community Services Food Pantry is “definitely heaven sent” and allows them to stretch the food budget through the end of the year.

Cauley pays back by volunteering regularly at ACS, stocking shelves with food that comes from many sources, including the Food for Hope grocery bags that are included in Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune newspapers today, Nov. 23.

“Some months are harder than others, for sure,” says Cauley, whose wife is a second-grade teacher. “Summer months require more food because the children are home all day.”

Food from the grocery bags (the 45,000 bags are donated by Sherm’s Food 4 Less) are designated to specific pantries for distribution in the period after the holidays, says Alec Schwimmer, Aging Community Coordinated Enterprises & Supportive Services (ACCESS) nutrition program coordinator. 

Clients may get one box a month and it’s designed to last for three to five days.

Turkeys are in big demand over the holidays, but there aren’t enough for everyone — only a dozen — so ACS combs through its records and finds families most in need, those with four or more members who didn’t get one in the past few years, says Wilbur Claus, volunteer director of ACS, which is part of Ashland Seventh Day Adventist Church. It’s funded not by the church but by donations, he says.

With economic hard times and expansion of the “working poor” and homeless, ACS has been growing, says Claus, serving 3,410 people and 1,514 families in 2014. ACS is part of the ACCESS network of 24 emergency pantries in Jackson County. It’s the only one in Ashland, so food donated here will likely stay in the community.

To donate through the grocery bag campaign, simply fill it with non-perishable goods, include a donation if you wish and drop it at any Ashland fire station, Umpqua Bank or the pantry, at 1650 Clark Ave., Ashland.

The normal food box, as displayed by Cawley, was filled with a big block of cheese, orange and apple juice, dried milk, pasta, a big can of beef stew and many cans of fruits and vegetables.

“The free clothing, jackets and shoes have also helped a lot,” says Cauley.

The demand for food from the homeless has caused pantries to use the Fresh Alliance, which gathers ready-to-eat deli-type food from area markets. Most of the homeless don’t have the means to cook or even warm food up, says Schwimmer.

Food in pantries comes 30 to 40 percent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food program and a third from the Oregon Food Bank network, he says. They buy it with money from donors or funds raised at concerts and other events. The rest is from food drives, donors and the Fresh Alliance, which recovers food about to be dumped from markets.

Claus and his wife, Carol, shop around the valley for the best price on Thanksgiving turkeys. They found it this year at Winco in Medford — 58 cents a pound, making the average turkey around $10. As they were loading the turkeys, a woman came up and put a $100 bill in his hand, he says, enabling them to load a dozen.

“I never saw her before or since. It was wonderful,” says Claus, who jokes that he’s not related to Santa, though they have the same last name. 

There can be more turkeys in holiday food boxes if someone sends a check to the 1650 Clark Ave. address or simply walks in when they’re open, from 10 a.m. to to 1:30 p.m. every Wednesday.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.