A young girl with long red hair and freckles holds a shopping bag and stands in front of a row of kid-height food bins filled with fresh fruit, peanut butter, popcorn, fruit juice and other snacks at The Giving Plate's Kid's Korner. She stops and picks up a package of cheese and crackers.
"These are my favorite," she says, placing a few in her bag. The Kid's Korner is the only food bank in Oregon exclusively for children 18 and under, where youngsters can shop for themselves anytime The Giving Plate is open.
I visited the Bend Food Project on a collection day, where it all starts with a green reusable bag. The Bend Food Project provides The Giving Plate thousands of pounds of food each year through donations made by neighbors throughout Bend.
Rows and rows of green bags bursting with non-perishable packaged food were stacked at the entrance of Holy Communion Church. Volunteers were fluttering around. On that day, Bend Food Project would collect 12,036 pounds of food, or roughly 9,628 meals. Gathering that many food donations sounds daunting, but Sue Marceaux, who founded the Bend Food Project with her husband, Larry, said the collection only takes a few hours.
It's a simple model.
A neighborhood coordinator asks neighbors if they want to contribute, giving them a reusable Bend Food Project bag in which to collect food.
"We suggest you put your bag in your pantry and as you see sales when you are shopping, you fill it," Marceaux advises.
Collection day happens every two months. Donors leave their filled food bag by their front door, and a neighborhood coordinator picks up the full bag and leaves an empty one. Marceaux said the program is designed to be simple, because "everybody wants to help, but they want it to be easy."
Beth Anderson works together with her friend Teresa King as a neighborhood coordinator. She told me, "It's an easy way to help a lot of people."
Marceaux called Anderson and King "super achievers," because they bring in so many bags from their close-knit Three Pines community.
"It's not a handout, but a hand up," King said after dropping off a haul of overflowing bags.
All of the food brought to the Bend Food Project goes to The Giving Plate, started by Gary and Debra Kelso. In addition to the Kid's Korner, The Giving Plate has several other programs serving people experiencing food insecurity. The monthly food box program allows guests to fill out a shopping list and receive about 25 pounds of food per family member, once a month. A grab-and-go pantry is available during open hours, providing an assortment of bread, pastries and other food and personal items. Guests don't need to sign in to access the pantry.
Most recently, The Giving Plate acquired the Backpacks for Bend program, started by Amy Fraley in 2009, providing weekend food for 450 kids in 28 Bend and La Pine schools. Combining Backpacks for Bend with the Kid's Corner program, The Giving Plate serves over 1,000 local children.
The Bend Food Project website lists the types of non-perishable food and non-food items the project needs. The next food collection day is Oct. 13—just in time to serve the community during the holidays.