Reaching out to ‘bag’ more donors

By Tammy Asnicar For the Tidings

Volunteers from the Food Projects of Medford, Ashland, Phoenix, Talent and Eagle Point are taking it to the streets Saturday in an effort to recruit more donors and more believers in the “Power of One Green Bag.”

It’s the first time that the five Jackson County Food Projects have collaborated. The goal is to build stronger community spirit and shore up the donor base.

The mission is to distribute more green bags for donors to fill every two months with non-perishable groceries that provide Rogue Valley food pantries with a steady year-round supply of food.

Volunteers will be canvassing neighborhoods and setting up tables outside grocery stores, libraries and participating merchants.

Medford Food Project volunteers will be out both Saturday and Sunday.

Ashland will have signs posted all over town and a banner hanging over Main Street.

All volunteers will be armed with brochures inviting neighbors county-wide to buy just one extra non-perishable food item each week for two months and store the groceries in the green bag to be picked up on the second Saturday of even months of the year. The green bags are delivered to local food banks.

The combined Food Projects make up Jackson County’s largest all-volunteer operation, collecting approximately 400,000 pounds of food each year.

Medford, Ashland and Phoenix, however, report attrition in their donor base.

Since 2011, the Medford Food Project has collected more than one million pounds of food for 15 area food banks by enlisting 3,000 households in the greater Medford area, including Jacksonville and Central Point.

The program typically loses 15 to 20 percent of its donors each year for a variety of reasons, said John Javna, creator of the Food Project concept. He calculates that the program needs 600 new donors each year to keep the food banks’ shelves fully stocked.

Brad Galusha said that volunteers in Ashland are hoping to sign up 400 new donors to add to its pool of 2,700 donors.

“This donor drive is the really cool,” he said. “It’s a really big deal.”

Although current donors account for about 30 percent of the small town’s households, the Ashland program loses about 300 donors every year.

Galusha, who chairs the Ashland Food Project steering committee, attributes the loss to Ashland’s aging population.

In Phoenix, there are about 270 households donating to that city’s Food Project, down from a high of approximately 315, said Karen Jones, the Phoenix Food Project District coordinator.

“The upcoming tabling day for all the (Rogue) Valley projects is to resupply all our projects with new donors,” said Jones. “People move, pass on, lose jobs, have more pressing family needs — or just change their contact information and forget to tell us!”

Approximately 1 in 7 Jackson County residents struggle with putting food on their family’s table. That’s more than 30,000 hungry people; one-third of them children.

The Ashland Food Project is the oldest. It was started in January 2009 by a small band of residents who wanted to make it easy for folks to donate food to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

Galusha said that the Ashland project currently serves 650 households.

By his calculations, that’s “roughly 1,700 people.”

“Twenty-five percent of them are under age 18,” he added.

Jones said she was inspired to start the Phoenix Food Project in 2011 after reading an article about the Ashland Food Project in the Medford Mail Tribune.

“Five Phoenix households were donating to the Talent program before we started,” she recalled. “We were able to pick up 39 households and things have simply taken off from there.”

Jones said that the Phoenix Food Project works hand-in-hand with the Phoenix Pantry, an ACCESS supplemental pantry.

The pantry and the food project “have a unique relationship in that I also work several days per week to haul in goods, shop for groceries with the pantry manager,” said Jones. She also redeems cans and bottles to buy additional groceries.

Jones reckons that Phoenix, one of the Rogue Valley’s smallest cities, is also “one of the poorest.”

“Green Bag donations average 3,700 pounds every other month — and those goods last about a month,” she added.

“We feed 700 to 1,000 people per month,” she said.

Galusha said that he and his wife “feel lucky to be involved” with the Food Project.

“It’s amazing, and the beauty of it … it is so easy,” he said.

Pick-up days are “a real joy,” he added.

Watching 50 to 100 volunteers of all ages unload, sort and organize the food donations at the Ashland Food Bank “is an amazing experience.”

“Everybody is working with the same goal. Everyone has a smile,” he said.

Jones said, “It is what we are all about — community.”

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at [email protected].

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