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Ashland Peace Meals volunteers see need explode

Thanks to volunteers and some donations, the Ashland community Peace Meals are going strong.

All meals are prepared to go, and guests are encouraged to move along, although some stay to eat and take advantage of the restrooms and handwashing facilities on site.

Organizer Jason Houk said the donations have been helpful because the number of guests at the meals are growing substantially each week.

“We were giving out about 40 meals a day a few weeks ago, and now it’s about 100 a day,” Houk said.

On some days, they have run out of food, he said. Despite generous donations from the community, volunteers are worried they won’t be able to provide this many meals for a long period.

Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice volunteers were granted the use of a commercial kitchen at the old Shepherd’s Way church on Fifth Street.

Volunteers had a rough year after they were forced to move out of their warehouse space and also lost the consistent use of Pioneer Hall to prepare and serve meals.

Organizer Vanessa Houk said the church’s space is a solution to the immediate crisis, and volunteers are searching for a permanent place to cook daily or weekly meals.

For the time being they are able to provide breakfast and dinner Thursdays and Fridays. Another group uses the space to make Monday meals, and Uncle Foods Diner has picked up the remaining days of the week.

The Houks said they’ve received donations from Falafel Republic, Harvey’s Place, Bird and Rye, Rogue Produce, an individual who purchased them a Fry Family Farm CSA box, and Northwest Pizza.

Matthew Rodgers, Northwest Pizza manager, said the company is trying to support other local businesses and those who are putting themselves at risk doing their jobs.

They’ve donated pizzas and salads to staff at grocery stores and the hospital in addition to the Peace Meals.

They’ve also been purchasing $5 gift cards from local businesses, which are given out with online orders over $25.

“We’re aware of the fact that there are lots of people who are really overworked and at risk,” Rodgers said. “We have a strong community, and that’s important to us. We don’t want to see anyone go out of business.”

To help the business recoup some of the financial losses, it is selling $10 “pizzas with a purpose” online at nwpizzapasta.com, which “goes toward feeding our less fortunate, homeless, and health care communities during this time,” the website says.

To participate, click the red “order online here” button on the homepage. This will redirect to an online menu, and “pizza with a purpose” is the first item listed.

Vanessa Houk said volunteers have always been really careful when it comes to food safety, but in the midst of COVID-19 even more precautions are being taken, including cutting down the number of volunteers they have working.

She said cash donations are needed so they can prepare for what’s to come after the initial crisis and find a commercial kitchen space to use. Donations can be made at sojwj.org.

Jason Houk said they can always use paper towels, cleaning supplies, toiletries, packaged or prepared food, clothing and camping gear.

Due to the pandemic, they can not accept food that has been prepared in someone’s home.

Donations can be dropped off between noon and 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays at

48 Fifth St., Ashland.

Vanessa Houk said having fresh produce and hearty, healthful meals go beyond nurturing the body, it nurtures the soul.

“As we go through this crisis and look ahead, we want everyone around us to be as healthy as possible because it helps all of us,” she said.

The community is doing what it can to make it work, she added, but the system is imperfect. She said they’re grateful to everyone who has had a hand in making a change, including funding that has allowed some homeless people to stay in hotels.

“It’s so fun to watch the transformation of people who haven’t slept in a bed in who knows how long, and to see them all cleaned up and rested has been wonderful,” she said. “The gratitude of the people receiving the food and services has been immense.”

Peace Meals are delivered daily from:

  • 4:05 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Fuel Commission lot, 99 N. Valley View Road
  • 4:20 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Ashland Creek Park, 27 E. Hersey St.
  • 4:35 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. at the Lithia Park Gazebo by the bandshell
  • 4:50 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Triangle Park, at the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Liberty Street
  • 5:15 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. at Clay Street Park, near the overpass by Bi-Mart.

Contact freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

Vanessa Houk prepares meals to be delivered Thursday afternoon. (Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings)
Vanessa and Jason Houk prepares meals to be delivered Thursday afternoon.(Andy Atkinson / Ashland Tidings)