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Food project targets new donors

Sixty minutes to provide 15,000 meals: That’s the goal of a Medford Food Project sign-up drive that aims to add 250 more donors to the six-times-per-year food-collection effort to combat hunger.

Teams of two volunteers each will knock on doors from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, in targeted neighborhoods for the program that picks up green bags of food donated by households on the second Saturday of every other month. “60 Minutes against Hunger” is also a test to figure out how to sustain the project and keep it growing.

“It’s one thing to start something. It’s another thing to create something that will continue to deliver the services,” said John Javna, who helped create the first Food Project in Ashland five years ago.

More than 40 communities around the country have Food Projects, but growing those and dealing with donor attrition are still challenges. Donor retention is about 75 to 85 percent annually, said Javna. Medford is the largest city with a Food Project.

“We decided that Medford would be a perfect place to learn about how to build a sustainable system that can be used by anyone,” said Javna. “This is a test. We want the food projects to exist in Jackson County in 10 years.”

People are waiting in all kinds of places to launch Food Projects, said Javna, but he wants to ensure sustainability. Javna provides communities with a computer-management program, graphics and strategies, from how to organize to picking up and delivering the food. He asks only that the pickup be on the second Saturday of every other month and that donors use a green bag.

“We have proven that the Food Project works,” said Javna.

There are neighborhood coordinators and a steering committee. Rather than spending time chasing grants, the projects are funded by local business sponsors who have stepped up. Students from North, South and St. Mary’s high schools and Jacksonville Boy Scout Troop 217 will be among 100 volunteers in the effort.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the kids to learn about community and to have that young enthusiasm to help us to feed our hungry neighbors,” said Jane Maynard, a five-year Food Project volunteer who is coordinating high school participation. Maynard has worked with several students who have done their senior projects to support the bag collections.

Mapping of target neighborhoods is being done by a team that includes Virginia Oxendine, who is also working on logistics.

“We will be going to neighborhoods that don’t have donors indicated,” said Oxendine. Those include areas off of North Phoenix Road, around St. Mary’s School and Larson Creek, and Siskiyou Boulevard, she said. Current neighborhood coordinators will also canvass their areas again.

Teams will meet in advance of the start for training, Oxendine said. They’ll get maps and materials and have bags to hand out. The new donors' first food pickup will be Saturday, Dec. 13.

Medford’s project, which also includes Central Point and Jacksonville, supplies 14 food banks. Meeting Saturday’s target would bring the total to 3,000 donors. Since it was created in 2011, the Medford project has collected 550,000 pounds of food. All told, Food Projects in the county, including Ashland, Eagle Point, Phoenix and Talent, have brought in 1.3 million pounds, the equivalent of more than 1 million meals.

Those who want to participate in the drive can sign up at info@medfordfoodproject.com or call 541-210-8288.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.