Donations, volunteers help Ashland Food Project help feed local families

Jason Houk, operations assistant at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, helps collect food during the final Ashland Food Project drop-off day of 2022 on Dec. 10. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth
December 18, 2022

December pick-up yields 15 tons of much-needed donations for Ashland Emergency Food Bank

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Volunteers hustled to sort food donations inside the Ashland Emergency Food Bank and out during the last Green Bag drop off day of 2022, coordinated in conjunction with The Ashland Food Project.

The last food drive of the year, which both organizations coordinate, is estimated to have brought in 30,000 pounds of food for the Food Bank, according to Brad Galusha, chair of the Ashland Food Project board of directors. The Ashland Food Project, separate from the food bank, has been partnering to help stock the organization since 2009. Through donations, sponsoring businesses, and volunteers, the organization now provides about 35% of the food on the nonprofit’s shelves.

Jason Houk serves as operations assistant at the food bank, and helped set up for the event on Saturday, Dec. 10, which started out in the rain but ended up clearing up with cool sunshine.

“We’re bringing in the abundance,” Houk said. “The community really shows their love for the food bank every few months by the Green Bag program.”

“The need is great,” he added. “Every week we see more families, more new folks that have found the food bank.”

Volunteer Betsy Deniston sorts donations at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank on Dec. 10. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

Houk notices a lot of families and single individuals and working class individuals just in need struggling to afford food.

“We’re seeing a lot of folks that are really struggling with food insecurity and folks that are finding that they’re just not able to have enough money at the end of the month for their food budget,” he said. “A lot of people making the hard choices between paying the bills or buying food.”

Approximately 150 neighborhood coordinators and roughly 2,500 donors provide the food, Galusha said, representing roughly 25% of Ashland households.

“All 150 of them drive through here,” Galusha said at the Food Bank drop-off spot.

Vehicles lined up to the street pulling around the backside of the Food Bank to deliver the food for sorting and distribution.

“Everything we do is to make it as easy as possible for donors to donate, so we give them a bag and we give them two months to fill it,” Galusha said.

The food bank is a willing partner to then distribute the food to those who need it.

“We do six of these drives a year, on the second Saturday of every even-numbered month, and the December drive is historically the busiest drive,” said George Kramer, president of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank board of directors. “I think people are in a giving mood. Everybody’s in town typically.”

Amey Broeker, executive director of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, left, gets festive by donning a seasonal cap during the drop-off event in conjunction with the Ashland Food Project on Dec. 10. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

Amey Broeker, executive director of the food bank, and wearing a festive Santa hat, sorted through empty bags with a volunteer at her side. She said one thing that has come from the pandemic has been an increase in giving of cash or checks toward the food bank, which helps to stock the majority of the food to be distributed to those in need.

“We buy about $15,000 to $20,000 worth of food a month so cash donations are also very important for us,” she said.

“We always need volunteers,” she added. “We have just three paid staff, all of us are part-time and then we have about 60 volunteers who work on a weekly basis.”

“We have opportunities to do delivery for our homebound clients. That might be once a month for two hours.”

And the need is great, and growing. 

“Our numbers actually slowed down during COVID because a lot of people left town, they couldn’t afford it,” Kramer said. “Now, we’re starting to see, since about the middle of this year especially, numbers creeping back up. Government support has ended. Food prices are higher, and I think (for) the people living in Ashland, it’s an expensive place to live and it’s that much harder for folks to stay here. And folks that didn’t typically need any assistance now do.”

The private, nonprofit food bank operates to provide food for individuals to residents of Talent and Ashland. The food bank partners with the Ashland Food Project, which started in Ashland in 2009.

“There was a recession at the time,” Galusha said. “A lot of people were in trouble.”

A couple Ashland residents decided to join together, enlisting their children to help collect food donations using a wagon and going door-to-door.

“The first couple pickups were like 1,000 pounds (of food), which was big,” Galusha said.

“It has now grown,” he added.

“December’s always a really good pickup because everyone’s in the spirit of giving,” Galusha said. 

“The last couple pickups right around 25,000 pounds (of food), I’ll bet today we hit 30,000 pounds.”

Ashland Food Project board chair Brad Galusha, right, and his wife, Amy, pose for a photo at the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. Ashland.news photo by Holly Dillemuth

The need for food will continue into the new year and residents who are able to donate are encouraged to think ahead.

“Two months from now, we’ll need their stuff again,” Kramer said. “What we really love about our partnership with the food project is that lots of food banks, we go out and we buy food in bulk. We buy 5,000 cans of green beans, and if you don’t like green beans, well ….”

At the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, Kramer noted that those who donate give a “little bit of everything.” 

“It’s a little bit better arrangement, a better selection for the folks that come in,” Kramer said.

Ellen Downes, a longtime Ashland resident, has been volunteering with the Ashland Food Project for four years. Downes talked with fellow volunteer Stefani Seffinger near the sorting area.

“It’s very rewarding,” Downes said. “It’s a great crew of volunteers — you feel like you make a difference.”

Residents are encouraged to keep the next food drive in February in mind, and to donate big cans of soup.

“February is usually one of our smaller drives,” Kramer said. “We are always thrilled for the food we get, but if people are in a position to give us food in February, it goes to a good home.”

Kramer said the food bank will celebrate 50 years in 2023 and he would like to see the anniversary celebrated in some way.

“We live in a very generous community,” Kramer said. “We’re just neighbors helping neighbors here.

“The need has continually grown and we thankfully have continued to be able to rise to meet that need.”

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.


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