The Ashland Food Project is reaching out to people who'd like to donate food, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Over the next few weeks, about two dozen Ashlanders — including students, local professionals, retirees and activists — will be knocking on doors, ready to chat with neighbors about food and community. They're part of the advance team of the Ashland Food Project — a door-to-door food collection program that's reaching out to people who'd like to donate food, but haven't gotten around to it yet. AFP's slogan is, "You want to help. We want to make it easy."

"As far as we know there's nothing else like it anywhere," said Steve Marshank, an AFP volunteer. "We have two goals: To provide a steady new supply of food to organizations like the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, and to build a stronger community by giving people a good reason to talk to their neighbors."

"It's a remarkably simple, user-friendly concept," said co-founder John Javna. "Each of our volunteers will call on homes in his or her neighborhood — we figure that's about 25 to 35 houses apiece. If a neighbor wants to participate, we ask them to buy just one extra item per week when grocery shopping. Then every two months, on a prearranged day, our neighborhood volunteer will stop by to pick up the food."

From there, the food will be distributed to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, the Food Angels, Uncle Food's Diner, and other organizations.

Not every Ashland neighborhood will see AFP volunteers right away. The first two weeks will be devoted to a "test canvass" in a few areas.

"We want to learn more about what works and what doesn't before we get the whole town involved." said food activist Paul Giancarlo. "We have been planning since January, and want to make sure the project is simple and sustainable."

The effort will go city-wide in May, and Ashland Food Project volunteers expect it to have an immediate impact.

"We estimate that for every 300 people who participate, we'll collect about a ton of additional food per month." Javna said.

That means, he explained, that if only 10 percent of Ashland's 9,000 households get involved, the Ashland Food Project could add 36 tons of food per year to the local supply.

"Ashlanders have always been generous, and we deeply appreciate their contributions," said Ann Marie Hutson, board president of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. "But the local need for additional food is greater than most people realize."

The New York Times has reported that demand at food banks across the U.S. is up by an average of 30 percent. But according to Hutson, it's worse here.

"The demand in Ashland is already up 50 percent over last year and we don't know how much higher it will go," she said. "That's why we're so excited about this innovative new project."

The Ashland Food Project's organizers stress that they aren't inventing new systems — they're working to strengthen the ones we already have.

"We've got a great infrastructure for distributing food," said Pamela Joy, founder of the Food Angels. "We just want to make sure there's enough additional food collected, so no one in our community ever has to go hungry.

Anyone interested in joining the Ashland Food Project, or would like more information, can e-mail the Ashland Food Project at foodproject@opendoor.com. Project A has donated a Web site, ashlandfoodproject.com, which will be online on Wednesday. Those interested can also call AFP at 488-9676.