After a monthlong push to increase participation in Medford, the countywide Food Project that launched in Ashland two years ago expects to have more than 4,500 households donating food this month.

After a monthlong push to increase participation in Medford, the countywide Food Project that launched in Ashland two years ago expects to have more than 4,500 households donating food this month.

Saturday is collection day for the food gathering effort, which began in 2009. Volunteers in the program distribute reusable green bags to their neighbors, who then buy one extra nonperishable item each week and store it in the bag. Every two months, volunteers pick up the bags of food and leave empty bags so neighbors can start saving food again.

Following a membership drive sponsored by the Mail Tribune, Medford area participation jumped by 24 percent in September to more than 1,850 households.

To date in 2011, the Food Project has delivered more than 135,000 pounds of food to area food banks and organizers expect the amount collected each week to increase substantially with the increased membership.

Food Project Founder John Javna said in an email that the effort is something everyone in the local communities can be proud of.

"People should know that this is a home-grown program — there's no model for it anywhere else," he wrote. "The people of Jackson County have created America's first neighborhood-based food collection program. We're demonstrating to other communities how neighbors can take care of each other in this way, when bad times hit."

Javna said food bank operators estimate that more than 30,000 Jackson County residents will need emergency supplies of food in 2011. That's nearly 15 percent of the county's population — and about 40 percent of those receiving food are children.

The Food Project was founded in Ashland, expanded to the Talent area in 2010 and to the Medford area in February.

In Ashland, the food goes to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, which distributes it to it clients and other agencies. In the Medford area, which includes Jacksonville and Central Point, the food goes to 18 agencies, including ACCESS Inc., the Northwest Seasonal Workers, the Maslow Project, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Kids Unlimited and the Medford Gospel Mission. In Talent and Phoenix, the recipients are the Talent Food Bank and a Phoenix food pantry.

For more information or to join as a pickup volunteer or a food donor, see http://ashlandfoodproject.com/mfp, email foodproject@opendoor.com or call 541-210-8288.