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Ashland Emergency Food Bank changes policy to allow 'social distancing'

Because of the “social distance” requirements recommended during this siege of coronavirus, the often-crowded Ashland Emergency Food Bank won’t let clients stroll around with shopping carts.

Instead, visitors can inform volunteers of allergies or vegetarian preferences, sit in a waiting area, let workers do the shopping, then pick up your box at the back door.

“Most government-supported food banks just hand you a box of food and you get no preferences about what’s in it. But we have always liked the interaction with customers, and treating everyone with dignity,” says food bank board President George Kramer.

However, he adds, “This virus lives for days on surfaces. That’s what’s driving it. Keeping people separate is the best way to beat it. This strategy is how we protect shoppers and also our volunteers, who tend to be retired and elderly. They are the most vulnerable age group to this virus.”

The huge impact of recent closures, such as the Ashland Independent Film Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, schools and many tourism-driven events, will cost people jobs and income, says Kramer, and that could reduce giving to the Ashland Food Project’s “green bag drive,” while increasing demand for it, he adds.

The Ashland Emergency Food Bank gets 30,000 pounds of food every other month from the Food Project. The dropoff of such food turns the loading area of the food bank into a busy spot, crammed with 60 volunteers — and the social-distancing regimen won’t allow that, Kramer said.

“So, instead of dropping off food, think social distancing above everything else, so we’d love to get checks. We’ll go buy food,” says Kramer, adding that AEFB has always bought some food and will be using its cash reserves to buy more over the next few months.

The Food Project has canceled its April food pickup drive, says its President Brad Galusha, adding that they may pick up checks instead — or perhaps ask people to drop food at the Food Bank on staggered days, so not many people show up at once. The Food Project board is meeting Thursday to map out plans during the new emergency and synchronize with the Food Bank.

The Food Bank has been operating for almost 50 years. It was started in a garage by several churches who saw low-income workers getting hungry during the 1973 oil embargo, which drove up gas prices, says Kramer.

The Food Bank is a nongovernmental organization and therefore doesn’t require clients to prove eligibility, notes Kramer. “If you live in Ashland or Talent and can show us one piece of ID and you want food, we will give you food.”

The food bank will be closed Monday and maybe more days for deep-cleaning. Checks can be mailed to 530 Clover Lane, Ashland, 97520, or P.O. Box 3578.

Jamie Lusch / Ashland TidingsAshland Emergency Food Bank volunteer Karen Braun gives bananas to Cathy Mckiblin at the Ashland Food Bank Friday.