Food Project founder named Social Worker of the Year

The four door-to-door Food Projects of the Rogue Valley, started only three years ago, are spawning similar anti-hunger efforts in Florence, Roseburg, southwest Portland and California, and have brought their originator, therapist Paul Giancarlo of Ashland, the award of Social Worker of the Year for 2012.

Giancarlo started the Ashland program in February 2009 to help the hungry and to set an example for his young children, just entering school, about how to make a difference, and to actualize what he learned in his college graduate program in social work, that it's about "helping the poor ... and working to create positive change in your community," he said.

Giancarlo and author John Javna of Ashland, a co-founder of ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, created the Food Project model in Ashland, which this month netted 20,000 pounds of food for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. It distributes weekly food boxes, mostly to the so-called "working poor," and helps at half a dozen other food programs, including Uncle Food's Diner, the "Food and Friends" program of the Ashland Senior Center and the Ashland Family YMCA after-school food program.

In the past few years, the pair and their steering committee have created a "starter kit" to help others launch their own program, which includes a media kit and high quality computer software for collection, tracking and creating a website, all made by local volunteers and distributed at no cost, enabling the start of Food Projects in Phoenix-Talent, Eagle Point and Medford-Jacksonville-Central Point.

During the most recent collections, on the second Saturday of April, the Medford drive brought in 21,000 pounds of food. Ashland reported 20,000, Phoenix-Talent collected 5,000 and Eagle Point almost 1,000, with collections still coming in over ensuing days.

"It feels fantastic, not just to get this award for the project, but to know that this simple idea and model we've created here in the Rogue Valley is seen as so workable and valuable to other communities in the region and around the country," says Giancarlo.

"The reason it's spread so fast and easily is because it's simple and it's a paradigm shift. Now, there's a dependable and sustainable source of food for food banks every two months, and it relieves them of the struggle of doing food drives," says Giancarlo, noting that during the last drive he was accompanied door-to-door by representatives from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who wanted to study how to adopt the model.

It would be by far the largest entity to mount the program — a total of 1.4 million potential recipients, says Giancarlo. In addition, notes Javna, the Lane County Food Project has asked for five starter kits for surrounding communities.

"It's spreading so fast," says Javna, "not just because of the bad economy, but because it's a simple way for people to make a difference on an important issue and build a feeling in their neighborhoods and in themselves that we all can make a difference. People are more concerned about hunger because of the economy, yes, but also because people want to help."

Steering committee member Jayne Maynard of Ashland, who has been with the effort from the start, says people from many communities are coming to learn by watching it in action, "and they're saying, hey, we can do that. There's been a 40 percent increase in food insecurity in the last few years, and people are realizing that a hungry community is not a healthy community."

"People are joining in this," Javna notes, "because they care and have skills they can volunteer. ... We're committed to see this work through, everywhere it goes. We believe in it and feel lucky, because it has so much meaning about bringing positive change and is being embraced by so many."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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