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'Rogue Food Unites' Helps Residents Displaced By Fire And Restaurants Struck By Pandemic

Food being prepared at Sammich in Ashland for victims of the Almeda Fire.
Rogue Food Unites
Food being prepared at Sammich in Ashland for victims of the Almeda Fire.

With thousands of residents between Ashland and Medford displaced after the Almeda Drive Fire, a recently formed nonprofit is connecting residents' food needs with restaurants struggling to make a profit during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rogue Food Unites was created with the specific goal of enlisting local restaurants to cook daily meals for fire victims.

“My first reaction was that we need to figure out a way for restaurants who are already struggling in this pandemic to be the key point people for making all the food that’s going to be needed for the immediate and long-term needs of the thousands of people who were impacted,” says Adam Danforth, co-collaborator with Rogue Food Unites.

Danforth, a butcher, author, and educator in Ashland, says they’re working with 30-35 restaurants in the area that cook a combined 1,000 meals, three times per day.

The program is supported by relief funds from the Red Cross and the food aid organization World Central Kitchen. Individual donations through United Way of Jackson County help cover funding gaps. Meals have been delivered to evacuation sites like the Jackson County Expo, resource centers at Talent Maker City and Shoppes at Exit 24 in Phoenix, hotels hosting evacuees, and even individuals’ homes.

“What we pay to restaurants is what restaurants need to be paid in order to pay their staff, pay their rent, cover their costs, and stay open,” Danforth says.

Ashland’s Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine and Luna Café saw their business shrink this summer after the Oregon Shakespeare Festival cancelled their season and other tourism attractions shuttered. Both restaurants are cooking meals with Rogue Food Unites for fire victims.

“It still helps keep the flow of food going in and out of restaurants, us purchasing, which is a trickle down to local farms or purveyors, and also helps keep people employed because we have work for them,” says Dana Keller, director of food and beverage at Neuman Hotel Group, which owns the two restaurants.

Keller says while the program generates less profit than they would make per meal during normal times, the business helps, especially since some of their own employees lost homes in the Almeda Fire.

The time before fire victims are able to return to stable housing is expected to last months or years. Danforth says the goal is for Rogue Food Unites to evolve with the food needs of the community.

“We’re continuing to grow as the impacted families from this fire begin to settle more permanently,” he says.

For now, he adds, there’s plenty of demand, and they need more restaurants to get involved.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.