The Ashland Food Project is expanding to Medford.

The Ashland Food Project is expanding to Medford.

Organizer John Javna hopes to build on the success of the Ashland project, which began in 2009 and now collects more than 100,000 pounds of food a year — fulfilling about 40 percent of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank's annual needs.

"Medford can do even better," he said. "Our system is based on the notion that many people want to help their hungry neighbors, but for some reason don't get around to it. So we've made it easy on everyone."

Melissa York and Lisa McGoffin are neighbors living in the Kennedy Elementary School area. They have signed up to become volunteer coordinators for the launch of the Medford Food Project.

"It's an easy way to help," said McGoffin. "And it's just a good idea. Hopefully it will take off."

Both women have two young children. The project helps demonstrate lessons in compassion and community, they said. And getting to know and work with their neighbors will strengthen neighborhood connections.

"I just know this will be a great thing," said York. "Building community helps those in need and helps pull us all together a little more."

As coordinators, York and McGoffin will go door-to-door in an effort to find a small group of neighbors willing to be food donors. Each new donor will receive a vivid green reusable Medford Food Project bag, and will be asked to buy one extra non-perishable food item each week when they go to the supermarket, Javna said.

Like in Ashland, on the second Saturday of each even-numbered month, the coordinators will pick up the full bags and leave an empty one. The bags of food will be taken directly to a central drop-off point in downtown Medford, where representatives of Medford food banks will sort it. From there, the food will be taken to the food banks, where it will be distributed through regular channels, Javna said.

"Then the whole process starts over. And that's all there is to it," Javna said.

Each coordinator decides whether they will contact and collect from three homes, 30 homes, or somewhere in between, Javna said. He hopes to start with 25 neighborhood coordinators for the Medford Food Project's first pickup date, Feb. 12.

"It's up to them to decide what they want to consider a neighborhood," he said.

Philip Yates, director of nutritional programs for ACCESS Inc., is also a coordinator for the Talent Food Project.

Yates saw the project's success in Ashland and volunteered to be a coordinator in his home neighborhood when the project expanded to Talent, he said.

"I wanted to be a part of and be involved with this project," Yates said. "It's a great way to raise food and for the community to be aware of needs, neighbor to neighbor."

Locally, ACCESS provides food for more than 3,200 families each month and that number continues to rise as the economy forces more people to seek assistance, he said.

In Jackson County, the number of people seeking food support has increased by more than 8 percent during the last fiscal year, and 38 percent of those ACCESS is helping to feed are children, Yates said.

The program has the potential to ensure that Medford's food banks get a new infusion of community support and a regular supply of food throughout the year — which is especially important in months when contributions are normally low, he said.

"It's a great way to sustain giving and involve the community in giving," Yates said.

Medford's community will be strengthened if residents join forces to take care of each other and build an effective new infrastructure in which hungry neighbors are provided a steady supply of nutritious food, said Jason Bull, associate director of the Gospel Mission.

"It speaks to the issue of hungry people," said Bull. "It addresses hunger neighbor by neighbor."

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, people are generally in a giving mood, said Bull. But as the holiday season draws to a close, it can become easy to forget that hunger is a daily reality for some of our neighbors, he added.

The Gospel Mission will be one of the distribution sites to benefit from the Medford Food Project.

"I'm excited to work with the other agencies and collaborate," Bull said, adding he and his family will be collecting food in their neighborhood.

"I'm excited to get to know my neighbors. It breaks through political differences and all the things that separate us and puts the common issue of hunger in the conversation of neighbors. There really isn't a downside to this," said Bull.

On average, neighborhood coordinators put in 20 to 25 hours a year. The bulk of the time is spent at the very beginning when building the "neighborhood," said Javna.

The reward for the small amount of time invested is profound: a stronger connection to neighbors and a deeper sense of community, he said.

"Everyone feels better about themselves and their town," Javna said.

For more information, visit medfordfoodproject.com.

Sanne Specht is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.