May 26—ASHLAND — By a board of directors vote in early May, the Ashland Emergency Food Bank will continue providing food and financial support to Uncle Food's Diner, a community meals service hosted by Peace House and Ashland First Methodist Church since 1993.
The AEFB has represented an "irreplaceable source of food" for the project during the worst times of the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout Almeda fire relief, said Peace House Executive Director Elizabeth Hallett.
Support from the food bank allowed Uncle Food's to increase its meal program from one to four days per week in March 2020, absorb food and supply expenses and distribute about 70,000 meals since January 2020. AEFB's monthly grant will also fund cleaning and packing supply purchases and help cover transportation costs, Hallett said.
Uncle Food's Diner is currently preparing meals and delivering them to Ashland locations for pickup. More information may be found at peacehouse.net/uncle-foods-diner.
"Our partnership with [Uncle Food's Diner] has primarily involved supporting them with storage space, food, and some modest financial support during the pandemic," said AEFB Executive Director Isaak Oliansky. "We are excited to step up our commitment to them in the same way that Uncle Food's Diner has risen to meet the unprecedented challenges of this moment."
The continued support bolsters the food bank's broadening reach around Ashland and Talent, including contributions to the Southern Oregon University student food pantry and Little Free Pantry at 1615 Clark Ave. Oliansky said the food bank offered a small grant to Jackson County Library Services in support of a food pantry pilot project starting at the Ashland branch. Increasing popularity of the little free pantry format opens opportunities for the food bank to help put food in the hands of more people, he said.
"If there's an organization in Ashland, Talent or surrounding rural areas that has a better relationship with a segment of the community that can't make it to south Ashland, those are people we want to support," he said.
Olianksy said the AEFB's central location at 560 Clover Lane does not reach the unhoused population with the effectiveness that Uncle Food's achieves, and he is pleased to offer support to cover more ground.
The food bank has resolved an excess of food in the early spring with community distribution and doubling of the monthly amount of food given to recurring clients, Oliansky said. Clients can shop twice per month or take double the amount at once — the format will continue for a one-year trial period, he said.
Donors responded to the pandemic with "unbelievable" generosity, which placed the food bank in the rare position to offer support to other community organizations, he said.
"Right now, we're moving so much food out the door and we have increased our food purchasing budget to reflect that," Oliansky said. "It's a new position for the food bank — usually we're grantees and not grantors."
The vast majority of food bank staff and volunteers are vaccinated against COVID-19 and the site maintains a face mask requirement for staff, volunteers and clients, Oliansky said.