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Food on the street

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Efforts to feed the hungry have increased, but it never seems to catch up to the need
Maren Faye of Phoenix helps with meal preparation for Uncle Food’s Diner in Ashland. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Volunteers help with meal preparation for Uncle Food’s Diner. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
JoAnn Prujan of Ashland helps out at Uncle Food’s Diner. [Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune]

Across the Rogue Valley, there has been a long-term community effort to feed the hungry.

The Gospel Mission, St. Vincent de Paul, ACCESS and Uncle Food’s Diner are just some of the grassroots efforts to get meals to hungry people.

St. Vincent in Medford has been offering meals since it was begun in 1982 by Bill and Lil Howe.

“We serve five hot lunches a week,” said Rich Hansen, with St.

Vincent. “At times, we’ve had over 200 people eating in our dining room.”

St. Vincent offers lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Gospel Mission in Medford offers dinner.

Other organizations pass out meals at various locations, including at Hawthorne Park.

Since the pandemic started, St. Vincent has had to keep the dining room closed, instead passing hot lunches served in clamshell-style containers to those waiting outside.

Hansen said he hopes the dining room is able to reopen soon because it offers a place to socialize and relax for those living on the streets.

The meals also go to the working poor, people who have a job but barely earn enough to feed and house themselves.

Hansen said St. Vincent has a good menu, receiving food donations from local restaurants and even from Rogue Valley Manor. Gleaners provide fresh fruits and vegetables.

While the dining room is the ideal spot to sit down and have lunch, Hansen said there have been behavioral issues in the past. As a result, a security guard was hired to help keep the peace inside the building.

“It’s not too hard to understand why we have fights,” Hansen said.

St. Vincent also has a food pantry and collects mail for many people who lack an address, and the mail and food boxes are passed out Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Many local organizations provide food to the poor, including ACCESS and various food banks.

“We deliver food on the street to five different locations,” said Elizabeth Hallett, with Uncle Food’s Diner, which is celebrating its 30th year in Ashland and is sponsored by Peace House.

She said the program started by serving meals to teens. “But we soon realized how many hungry people there are out there,” Hallett said. “Just in the last two years things have really amped up.”

The pandemic and the 2020 Labor Day fires have increased the need to provide food locally, she said.

Survivors of the Paradise, Obenchain and Almeda fires are some of the participants in the food program. Seniors struggling to pay the rent are seeking food as well, Hallett said.

Food preparation is underway Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at Ashland First Methodist Church, but Hallett said higher costs because of pandemic- related issues will likely force her organization to cut back.

“We had to hire people to work during the pandemic,” she said. “We also had to buy a vehicle to make deliveries.”

Because of these higher costs, Hallett said, “It’s not financially sustainable for us to do four days a week.”

She said she expected to have to cut back on the service sometime this year.

“We’ve spent a lot of money trying to sustain this thing,” she said.

Going forward, Uncle Food’s Diner also will need a new kitchen to prepare the meals.

She applauds the efforts of other organizations around the valley that prepare meals for those in need.

“We’re each trying to serve the population where we live,” she said.

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.