With the economy suffering, the demand for food at in 2009 has skyrocketed at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. In July, the AEFB served 45 percent more people than the year before. In August they hit an all-time per-month record, serving more than 1,100 clients — about 5 percent of the Ashland-Talent area.
The food bank is a home-grown, all-volunteer organization that supplies emergency food to residents of Ashland and Talent. Donations come in throughout the year, and normally the food bank receives enough to provide a reasonable supply of food to their clients every month.
By mid-August this year, their food supply was unexpectedly low.
That's when a brand new grassroots group — the Ashland Food Project — stepped in, bringing more than 7,000 pounds of food. "The AFP is a revolutionary concept," said co-founder Paul Giancarlo. "It's not a food drive — it's a neighborhood-based, door-to-door food collection system, sort of like recycling. Every two months people set a small amount of food on their porch, and a neighbor picks it up and takes it to the food bank. With the Ashland Food Project, we can provide a steady supply of food for years to come, sharing the responsibility among many food donors. It's a real community effort."
The AFP had its first food pick-up in June. Thirty "Neighborhood Coordinators" collected food from over 300 households, and brought 3,800 pounds of food to the AEFB.
"Until then, I was a skeptic," said Ann Marie Hutson, president of the food bank's board. "I just didn't see how something like this could work. But I underestimated the generosity and concern of our community."
She said she was impressed by the June pick-up"¦but "floored" by the August collection, when a group of 48 Ashland Food Project volunteers collected food from over 500 households. They brought in 7,165 pounds of food, most of it on Saturday, August 22.
"When those cars started pulling up, it was just so exciting," Hutson said. "We had a hard time keeping up with them. Their bags were packed with food — and good food! They didn't clean out their cupboards — they really tried to provide nutritious food."
The volunteers who collect food in their neighborhoods, called Neighborhood Coordinators, are also pleased with the results.
"It's amazing to see people so enthusiastic," said Merry Vediner, who collects food in the Pinecrest Terrace area. "On our collection day, one neighbor showed up at my house at 6:30 a.m. in his pajamas, just to make sure that we didn't forget to pick up his food."
Another volunteer coordinator, Jordan Pease, picked up food at Mountain Meadows.
"It was a fun adventure; like trick-or-treating combined with an Easter-egg hunt," he said. "They had such great organizational and recruiting efforts that it was a cinch to pick up from about 20 locations. And best of all, we collected about 650 pounds of food."
Donors feel strongly about their part in the Ashland Food project. "I always intended to contribute food to the food bank," says Amy Blossom, Ashland's librarian. "But somehow I just never found the time. The Ashland Food Project has made it easy for me to help out, and to feel good about what I'm giving. It's great."
"The AFP's basic idea, that I just buy one extra thing when I shop each week, is almost too easy," said local artist Melissa Markell. "It's hard to believe that my 8 or 10 food items make such a difference. But when they combine it with other hundreds of other people's donations, it obviously does. I'm really glad they've created this, so we can all pitch in."
The new lime-green Ashland Food Project bags came out for the first time this month.
"If you saw a lime-green bag sitting on a neighbor's porch, last week, that was the AFP in action," said coordinator Heidi Monjure.
A local businessman donated 2,000 reusable bags with the AFP's logo.
"Now our food donors have a place to store their food until pick-up day," Monjure said. "Then we'll take the full bag and leave an empty one. The bags are a great way of reminding people that we take this seriously, and that they can count on our being there to collect their food."
The Ashland Food Project's next pick-up day is Oct. 24, and they're looking for more Ashlanders to join them.
"We're growing fast," says co-founder John Javna, "and that's good — because the demand for food is growing even faster. I know there are plenty of our Ashland and Talent neighbors who really care about this issue, and are ready to jump in an help out. Bring it on! We're ready for you!"
Meanwhile, the Ashland Emergency Food Bank is beginning to count on the AFP.
"Their enthusiasm is contagious," said Brad Woodring, the food bank's food manager "From one collection to the next, it's clear that more and more people want to join in because it's a chance to do something satisfying and worthwhile. It makes me think we're headed in the right direction. As our numbers increase, I feel confident that we'll be able to take care of anybody who wants to come in. After all, after oxygen and water, what's more important?"
The Ashland Food Project can be reached through their Web site, ashlandfoodproject.com, at email@example.com, or by calling 488-6976. The Ashland Emergency Food Bank is located at 2200 Ashland Street and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every weekday. The only requirement for people to get food there is that they're hungry and live in Talent or Ashland.