By Michelle Frost

Maybe you’ve seen the bright green bags on a friend’s or neighbor’s porch step.  These are the trademark collection bags used by members of the Portland Food Project; a non-profit program that strives to provide a regular supply of food to hungry neighbors.

afood-project-bagSteering committee members Mary Notti and Jim Valluzzi explained to The Southeast Examiner how easy it is to join and participate.

“Anyone can be a member, or food donor. They just sign up on the website,” Notti says, “and then Jim emails them and puts them in contact with a neighborhood coordinator.”

Food donors collect a bag of non-perishable food items every two months, which is picked up by a neighborhood coordinator and delivered to local pantries. It’s as easy as buying an extra can of food each time you shop for groceries, and setting those cans inside the green bag until collection day, the 2nd Saturday of the even months: February, April, June, August, October, and December. The next pick-up is slated for June 13.

Portland Food Project began in Ashland in 2009, organized by a group of residents who created a simple, door-to-door food collection system. One of the founders, Richard Nudelman, brought this program to Portland, relocating here from Medford in 2012.

At that time, 14 donors contributed 237 lbs. of food to 2 pantry partners. Today Portland Food Project has 500 donors collecting 9,000 lbs. of food, serving 19 pantry partners in the metropolitan area. In December 2014, donors gave a record 18,000 lbs. of food!

Items most needed include cereal, soups, beans, rice, canned tuna, soy milk, and, especially for seniors: dried fruits, Ensure protein drinks, low-sodium soups and crackers, canned vegetables, and hard candies.

Non-food items include toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap.

According to the Oregon Food Bank, 92,000 children and their families are supported by food pantries every month, and 46% of food recipients in Oregon are employed. Nationally, 60 million Americans are ‘food insecure’. Food insecurity is not always an issue of homelessness or poverty.  Many families are simply under-employed, or having to choose between rent, medical expenses, car repairs or groceries.

In 2014, Portland donors gave the equivalent of more than 100,000 meals to those in need.  Even with this much help, “there are still gaps in some neighborhoods,” Valluzzi explains.

Volunteers are always welcome, whether collecting food for donation, being a neighborhood coordinator, or driving and delivering to local pantries when they might not be able to pick-up from a distribution center. To sign-up to volunteer visit the website.

An Afternoon Tea to benefit the Portland Food Project will be hosted by Mehri’s Bakery & Café, 6923 SE 52nd Ave. Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3, from 2 to 4 pm. Mehri has generously agreed to donate 25% of each order to the Portland Food Project.

Cost is $25 per person or $20 with a full grocery bag of non-perishable food.  Seating is limited. Call Mehri at 503.788.9600 to make your reservation.

In addition to launching the Portland Food Project in Portland, founder Richard Nudelman was a social worker, a family therapist, an animal activist, a chocolatier, and an avid runner.

He had a generous spirit and a passion for helping others.  “Richard was hugely philanthropic, and a real dog lover, involved with greyhound rescue,” Valluzzi tells us.

On February 13 of this year, Nudelman died of a heart attack at age 70 while jogging in his Woodstock neighborhood.

“Richard always gave chocolate-dipped berries, 4 or 5 berries in tiny cups that he would leave as gifts everywhere he went,” Notti says, “He loved making his own chocolate.”

With Nudelman’s passing, the steering committee is learning how much he truly handled and the myriad ways he helped our community.

A full listing of needed items can be found on the website under ‘Donate Food’. at www.portlandfoodproject.org Their email: info@portlandfoodproject.org.