Group collects 13,000 pounds of food in one day

Neighborhood coordinators from the Ashland Food Project collected more than 13,000 pounds of food from more than 1,000 households in Ashland and Talent on Saturday.

It was delivered to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, the Talent Food Pantry, the Ashland Food Angels and several other organizations.

That makes more than 33,000 pounds of food the group has delivered since June.

"The Ashland Food Project is the most productive food collection system we've ever had in this community," said Ann Marie Hutson, president of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. "It is a model, for the whole country, of what a community can do when they work together. I don't know how we ever made it without them."

The AFP, which calls itself "America's first neighborhood-based food collection system," is built around the idea that plenty of people would like to help their neighbors, but for one reason or another just don't get around to it. So the group has set up a system that makes it easy for people to participate. The group provides a reusable bag to anyone who wants to donate and asks food donors to buy one extra nonperishable food item each week for their neighbors. The food is stored in the bright-green AFP bag, and every two months a neighborhood coordinator comes to their home to pick the bag up. They leave an empty bag, and the whole process starts again. Food pickups are the second Saturday of every even month.

"It's not just sharing food — it's sharing responsibility," said co-founder John Javna. "Everyone gives a little, understanding that when we combine our efforts we have the power to change our world. And it's no joke — look at what we've accomplished in only six months. The exciting thing is that we're just getting started. In a year or less, we expect to double the amount of participants, and double the amount of food we collect for hungry neighbors."

The group also expects to see its efforts duplicated in surrounding communities soon — and eventually, all over the country. They've already expanded into Talent, working with a group of residents who are figuring out the best way to adapt the AFP's techniques to a more rural area. And they're working on putting together a complete package that includes a Web site, printed materials, mapping software, a handbook and other tools that will help other communities succeed.

"We think it will take another three or four months until we've got all our systems down," said Pam Vavra, the AFP volunteer who handles the group's database management. "Once we feel we've got a foolproof system for organizing, collecting food and keeping track of our efforts, we'll start giving it away as a turn-key operation."

The AFP gets no government support, and doesn't collect money. "We're interested in building community and collecting food. We're not interested in fundraising," said co-founder Paul Giancarlo. "The minute you ask for money, the whole equation changes. We want people in our community to realize that the most powerful thing we can do is collaborate with neighbors. All age groups, from young children to elders, are involved in the AFP, and we all get the great satisfaction of working together to solve a problem, and of seeing real results."

Members of the community have embraced the AFP's efforts in creative ways. James Edson collects food for the Ashland Food Project with his family. When he turned 12, he asked his friends to bring food to fill AFP bags instead of bringing gifts. The Rotary Club of Ashland has declared themselves an AFP neighborhood and has begun collecting bags every other month. So have the Gracepoint Church, the South Mountain Friends Meeting, the Ashland Zen Center, and the Mountain Meadows community.

The A Street Animal Clinic has a stash of green AFP bags, and invites every client to join the AFP when they bring their pets in.

Grilla Bites and Noble Coffee, among other businesses, regularly donate as part of their neighborhoods. More than 100 people have volunteered to be neighborhood coordinators.

"This is what it's all about," Neighborhood coordinator Heidi Monjure said. "We get a chance to walk around our neighborhood, meet the people who live all around us, and do something together on an ongoing basis. I've always wanted to know the people who live down the street from me, and now I have a reason to knock on their doors and say hello."

Anyone interested in joining the Ashland Food Project as a food donor or a neighborhood coordinator will find sign-up sheets on the AFP Web site, ashlandfoodproject.com, or can call 488-6976 and leave a message. The next AFP pickup is Feb. 13.

"Everyone who lives in Ashland or Talent is invited to join us," Javna said. "If you want to help, we'll make it easy."

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