Pickup day for the Food Project feels a bit like a holiday for Sandy Abell.
A neighborhood coordinator, the Medford resident goes out every other month to collect food-filled bags set out by her neighbors at their front doors for people in need.
"You drive down the street on pickup day and see these green bags all up and down the street," Abell said. "It's like Easter and you're finding eggs."
The Food Project, which started in Ashland three years ago, has spread to 24 cities and reaches as far away as Georgia, said John Javna, who helped found the effort with social worker and fellow Ashland resident Paul Giancarlo.
Year-round, it funnels a steady supply of food to senior centers, Meals-On-Wheels programs, food banks, churches, nonprofit groups and other distribution points.
Javna said the linchpin to the success of the Food Project is neighborhood coordinators such as Abell, who ask their friends and neighbors to buy a little extra food on their grocery shopping trips and donate it every other month to the project.
The Medford Food Project — which covers Medford, Central Point and Jacksonville — has 140 neighborhood coordinators picking up food from 2,500 households, Javna said. During the last pickup, they gathered an estimated 23,000 pounds of food, he said.
But organizers want to double the number of coordinators in the next year, Javna said.
To help achieve that goal, they hope 25 prospective neighborhood coordinators will show up at an informational session from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 426 W. Sixth St., Medford.
Abell said she would encourage everyone to consider becoming a neighborhood coordinator.
She started out by asking her neighbors whether they wanted to join the effort by donating food every other month.
"It was heartwarming that just about everyone thought it was a fabulous idea. This makes it simple and easy to donate," Abell said.
She distributed reusable green bags to neighbors who wanted to participate.
Abell sends out reminder emails as pickup day approaches. Bags are picked up on the second Saturday of every evenly numbered month.
The next pickup day is set for Oct. 13.
On pickup days, Abell gathers the bags, leaves behind empty bags for her neighbors to fill and drops off the filled bags at ACCESS Inc., a social services agency in Medford.
The whole process on pickup day takes Abell about an hour, she said.
"It's a wonderful way to support the community and bring your neighborhood together at the same time," she said.
Abell said her neighbors smile and wave at each other more often. They even shared information and looked out for each other when a rash of home break-ins hit their part of Medford a year-and-a-half ago, she said.
In Ashland, neighborhood coordinator Mia Morrish said the Food Project has brought her neighbors closer together and helped her children get more involved with the community.
Her kids, ages 10 and 13, enjoy coming along with her on pickup day, particularly her daughter.
"It's exciting when you're a young kid. It's almost like Christmas," Morrish said. "She enjoys seeing what people give and how much they give."
Including time spent sending out email reminders and picking up bags, Morrish estimated she spends about three hours every few months on the Food Project.
"I would highly recommend it whether people have kids or not," she said. "The time commitment is minimal."
Although it's not necessary for neighborhood coordinators, Morrish and her family have gone the extra mile by also volunteering at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, where they can see food going directly into the hands of people in need.
For more information about the Food Project, visit www.medfordfoodproject.org.
Local communities participating include Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Talent, Ashland and Eagle Point.
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.