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DailyTidings.com
  • Food flood

    After four years, the idea behind the Ashland Food Project has spread across the county; by October there will be 13 such projects across the state
  • Today's Food Project pickup marks the four-year anniversary of a project designed to simultaneously take a bite out of hunger and build community connections. Turns out science shows the stress-free, food-collection system is also bettering the lives of its volunteers, organizers say.
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  • Today's Food Project pickup marks the four-year anniversary of a project designed to simultaneously take a bite out of hunger and build community connections. Turns out science shows the stress-free, food-collection system is also bettering the lives of its volunteers, organizers say.
    A diverse grassroots crew of Ashland volunteers — from high-school students to seniors at Mountain Meadows Retirement Community — did the first pickup in June 2009. About 3,300 pounds of food were collected from 330 households, said John Javna, one of the program's founders.
    "The Food Project is a completely homegrown product of Jackson County," Javna said. "Although the concept is simple and straightforward, there was nothing like it anywhere when we started four years ago."
    Little by little the project has expanded throughout Jackson County. Today there are five separate area Food Projects collecting about 55,000 pounds of food every two months that support 21 food pantries. About 5,750 families participate in collecting about 350,000 pounds of food annually, he said.
    "On June 8, we will hit a total of about 860,000 pounds collected since the first pickup day four years ago," said Javna, adding the first four years have been "just a start."
    In the next four years, the goal is to expand participation in Jackson County "and turn it into a permanent part of the county's infrastructure," he said.
    "In Ashland, we now pick up from 23 percent of the households, which is unheard of," Javna said, adding the estimated percent of households participating countywide is about 8 percent.
    "That's still very high, but we hope to double it in the next four years," Javna said. "We want food-sharing to be like curbside recycling — something many of us do regularly, as a community effort. We also hope that as other needs become apparent, this grassroots system will expand to help provide them. Like recycling, it may take a generation for it to become ingrained in our culture, but we think that with this great start, we'll get there."
    The Food Project engine needs a steady supply of volunteers to run. And to run at peak efficiency, it needs volunteers who will sign on to become "neighborhood coordinators," said Karen Jones, district coordinator for the two-year-old Phoenix Food Project.
    Neighborhood coordinators recruit people to become food donors and give them a reusable green bag. On the second Saturday of every even month, the coordinators pick up the bags of food and leave a replacement bag for the next time. All the food is taken directly to local food pantries.
    Five families gathered 50 pounds of food in Phoenix's first pickup, Jones said. But that number has grown exponentially in the past two years, she said.
    "I suspect we will pick up 3,000 pounds of food (today)," Jones said, and that number will continue to soar if more neighborhood coordinators sign up.
    There are already more than 400 neighborhood coordinators in Jackson County. Amazingly, the coordinators' collection efforts average only about an hour a month, Javna said.
    "They are the ones who will make this effort grow, so we're especially keen on recruiting more of them now," he said.
    "Fortunately, it's a pretty easy and very rewarding job. Generally, it averages out to only about 12 to 15 hours per year — a very productive way to spend (those) hours" — for the community and for the volunteers, Javna said.
    "It always blows my mind to see how dedicated the volunteers are," he said.
    Scientific brain studies are providing answers to why giving can become a positive addiction. Researchers have found it can make us healthier and happier to experience generosity, Javna said.
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