Phoenix residents fill pantry

PHOENIX — Local residents have taken the phrase "it takes a village" to heart over the past two years, offering up help ranging from good, old-fashioned company and meals to diapers and fresh veggies.

What began as a food closet inside the First Presbyterian Church on Second Street has sparked a town-wide effort that includes a new branch of the regional Food Project, a handful of rows at the city vegetable garden and a slew of services, including a new diaper bank.

Officially, the Phoenix Food Project had its first pickup in June. But the effort, which began as part of the Medford and Talent collection efforts, has taken on a life of its own.

Volunteer Karen Jones, a city councilwoman, said she and a handful of residents collected some 50 pounds of food on their first "green bag" venture last year.

"It was a year ago, February, and we picked up 50 pounds between the half-dozen people who participated," Jones said.

The following pickup — Food Project pickups are held every other month — they netted 350 pounds, and the Phoenix Food Project's first official pickup brought more than 1,800 pounds.

The food donations were a natural supply for the church's food pantry. And when bulk items show up, they contribute to twice-monthly community dinners provided on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month.

Started by former city manager Jane Turner and local resident Mike Stitt, the dinners once served about four dozen people, but six times that number recently attended a summer kickoff BBQ.

"We started with 300 plates and we had two left at the end," Jones said.

To provide healthful food options to the city's neediest residents, coordinators of the Phoenix Community Garden at Blue Heron Park have stepped up to provide a few rows that are designated for the food pantry, and some private plot owners have agreed to provide extra veggies, as well.

Phoenix-area resident Susan LaDue, a grant writer who attends First Presbyterian Church, was recruited to write grants and now dons an apron as a volunteer cook for community meals.

LaDue said the community has created a unique support system that is about more than food supplies.

"What's unique about the community dinner in Phoenix is that the initial thought was to meet the needs of our transient friends on the (Bear Creek) Greenway, but it's become so much more," LaDue said.

"What it does now is it doesn't just satisfy tummies, but it satisfies social needs for interaction in our community, as well. The mayor and his wife help cook, and they sit down with community members for a meal. It's really wonderful."

Talent resident C.J. Lipski, who is spearheading an effort to create a regional diaper bank, said the level of caring in the community is encouraging.

Lipski's effort to collect diapers will begin, in conjunction with Phoenix and Talent Food Project pickups, in August.

"Obviously there's a lot of need in this community, so I'm hoping it really takes off," she said. "When I saw how many kids in the school system are on free and reduced lunches, free breakfasts, obviously there's an economic need in this area that the community seems to be trying to address."

In addition to the other efforts, said Rev. Mike Foster, pastor for First Presbyterian Church, a church member has been anonymously collecting toiletries and household necessities such as laundry soap for food pantry recipients who need them.

Foster said it is touching to see people rally to improve the lives of their neighbors.

"I've been here seven years, and we always had folks coming in and asking for food and help with other things, but it's really migrated from us giving them gift certificates or food cards to this being a more concerted effort to be able to help our neighbors," Foster said.

"It would be great to expand the number of people we're able to help and to start looking at some of the roots and causes of why folks are finding themselves in the positions they are in so that we can provide more than just a Band-Aid."

While the need is expected to grow, Jones said she hopes to see the community's willingness to help increase even more quickly.

"We have a lot of need and we still are trying to identify all of the dynamics in terms of who are our donors, who are those on the borderline and maybe need a little bit of help, and who are our regular recipients," Jones said.

"Wherever this goes, it feels really good to see the community working together to take care of one another."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at

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