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Help for Angels

A big fundraising benefit Saturday for Food Angels is a prime example of how social help agencies, instead of operating (and often struggling) in their own silos, are reaching out and intentionally doing “mission-mesh” to help each other toward common goals.

A stunning success story, built on the vision and sweat of Pamala Joy and her volunteers, Food Angels is celebrating 25 years of rescuing up to half-million pounds annually of overripe or damaged food — mostly from Market of Choice and Shop’n Kart — and driving it daily to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and, weekly, to Uncle Foods Diner (for Tuesday homeless feasts), Ashland Head Start and Jackson County Fuel Committee.

But Food Angels needs support to keep operating, mainly for van upkeep, utilities, weatherized double-pane windows and, the big one, a new roof on their garage, which is converted into a storage and food sorting/boxing unit, handling up to a ton of food daily.

With a goal of $5,000, several nonprofits, including Southern Oregon Pachamama Alliance, Southern Oregon Food Solutions and Emerging Futures are offering a by-donation soup-salad-sandwich bar at noon, a silent auction and a holiday gift bazaar, and a dessert bar at 2 p.m. At 1 p.m., music and comedy entertainment will be offered by Food Angels, including Pamala Joy, a professional clown. Other performers include musicians — and Food Angels — Alexis Hatfield and Eroldi Idlore.

The event will take place at Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland.

The reason Pachamama is doing a fundraiser, says co-founder Lorraine Cook, is it’s dedicated to resolving climate change and, according to its climate roadmap, the “Drawdown” study, food waste is the No. 3 cause of warming. Americans waste 40% of their food, and that waste decays into methane, which is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

“So, our connection to Food Angels is obvious,” says Cook. “Pamala has been doing a huge amount to reduce food waste for 20 years, and it’s very impressive to have that much stamina, especially as a volunteer.”

Joy worked for many years in Europe as a clown and joined the legendary Findhorn community in Scotland, where all are equal, and which considers all plants, animals and even minerals to be conscious beings with rights, she says. Members of Findhorn, a UN-designated Habitat Best Practices Eco-village, work a huge garden with the motto “work is love.”

On getting the boost from other nonprofits, Joy says, “I’m thrilled, overwhelmed and delighted.” She recently received a Community Development Block Grant of $18,000 from the city of Ashland, which went toward insulation and doors for the previously chilly unit. Now, she hopes to phase out noninsulated, single-pane windows. She also mentions wishing someone would volunteer to make a YouTube video of the operation, so that other cities can copy it.

Joy came to Ashland in 1995 with a serious ailment, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and began her volunteer social-help career, running a clothing exchange with Northwest Seasonal Workers, where she learned of the widespread need for food. They asked her to find 100 pounds of potatoes, which she did, and that launched her food work.

In time, her ailment cleared up, says Joy, noting that, “I take guidance from angels and ask them what they want me to do.” Weak from her illness, she was barely able to lift, but now, at 70, “this work has made me strong and I have no trouble lifting 70-pound boxes.”

She has two dozen volunteers, mostly senior citizens, and they each work about six hours a week. The city named her Volunteer of the Year in 2005.

A beaming Joy says, “There are two things in life that I’m really proud of — my 37-year-old daughter and this.”

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

Food Angels founder Pamala Joy gathers food daily for the hungry in Ashland. Photo by Denise Baratta