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Food pantries benefit many people with minimal effort

Portland Food Project's simple concept makes donating food easy for everyone

BARBARA SHERMAN - Judi Wandres (center) chats with Summerfield neighbor Judy Richter, who has just donated the bag of food held by Judi's husband J. Wandres for the Portland Food Project.About three years ago, someone from the Portland Food Project came knocking at the Cedar Mill home of J. and Judi Wandres to invite them to join the cause.

The Portland Food Project collects non-perishable food for 19 metro-area food pantries by using volunteer neighborhood coordinators who sign up their neighbors to collect one item per week, which the coordinators pick up once every two months.

“We had done it in New Jersey before we moved to Oregon,” J. Wandres said. “We liked the program because it's convenient for everyone.”

Last spring the couple moved to Summerfield and decided they wanted to keep donating food, but to their surprise, the closest neighborhood coordinator lived in the Sellwood area.

“I called them after we moved to ask who would be picking up our food and found out that if we wanted to donate, we had to become Summerfield's neighborhood coordinators,” J. Wandres said. “We filled out a form, and Mary Notti came to interview us. Within a week, we had 15 people signed up.

“Now we have 16, and this is only our second time picking up. We are getting to know more people in Summerfield and hope that more will sign up.”

On Saturday, Oct. 8, five neighbors had already dropped off their bright-green cloth bags full of food as the couple prepared to follow Judi Wandres' spreadsheet and drive to the homes on the list; afterward, the trunk of their car was full.

“I was so impressed with what they're doing,” said their friend Sheila Lambert, who was on the list for a pick-up. “We're hoping more communities will get on board and support this. When I shop, I just get a little more. Lots of people are hungry, and this is an important issue. I used to deliver Meals-On-Wheels and have seen it firsthand.

“It's a wonderful way to contribute, and you only have to add one item a week.”

The program, which is a 501(c)3 organization, started as the Southeast Portland Food Project in February 2012 partnering with two local food pantries and has grown over the years to now include three affiliate food projects in Milwaukie, Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Richard Nudelman originated the metro-area program after moving to Portland from Medford, where the Food Project started in nearby Ashland in January 2009 based on the concept of neighbors working together to collect food.

In both programs, neighborhood coordinators are responsible for sending reminders to their donors and picking up the full bags and leaving empty ones; in most cases, the coordinators take them to a drop-off point where food pantry representatives accept and sort them.

BARBARA SHERMAN - J. and Judi Wandres organize all the food bags they picked up Oct. 8 to take to a Portland Food Project collection center.According to the PFP website, neighborhood coordinators only spend a couple of hours every two months gearing up to collect food on the second Saturday of even-numbered months. And they have leeway if they need to change the date.

Once all the collected food is weighed, the coordinators are told how many pounds were collected so they can let their donors know.

Among the food pantries that benefit from the program are several run by churches and non-profits, with the majority in southeast and northeast Portland.

According to the PFP website, at least one-third of families who receive food have one or more members working and often have to choose between buying food or paying for utilities or heat or rent.

After J. and Judi Wandres had collected all the food, they dropped it off at a distribution point, and J. Wandres reported the following:

“The drop-off was quite an event. Along with the PFP staff, all in green T-shirts - and now Judi and I have our official PFP T-shirts - about a dozen 'youngster' volunteers helped to unload a parade of automobiles of other contributors like us. Inside the community room of the small Lutheran church, the floor and tables were piled with hundreds – literally - of bulging green bags. Other people from the PFP staff would later sort them by pantry.”

For more information on the Portland Food Project, visit portlandfoodproject.org or call 503-775-2110.