Volunteer effort powers weekly Free Community Market BBQ

Free Community Market volunteers include G.D.C, Amethyst and Judah, who were key in getting market started. Additional volunteers pack donated produce items into a trailer in Eugene.

September 28 - A weekly barbecue, food and clothing giveaway at Community Sharing every Sunday has developed into a continuous, weekend event that brings dozens of Cottage Grove residents together for an afternoon of household pantry picks and a neighborhood gathering cookout.

This May, a group of local volunteers gathered enough resources to begin a weekly food and clothing giveaway to help offset the rising costs in food and provide accessibility to nutritious groceries and produce to low income families.

Organizers say that they are grateful for the community's support, as their weekly turnout ranges from between 30 to 150 people on their biggest Sunday market to date.

Community Sharing Program has allowed the Free Community Market to operate at the pantry’s site to give an opportunity for any citizen to take as much as needed, no questions asked, without having to apply. Those who arrive on Sundays for food and clothes are also invited to a barbecue while they wait. Hot dogs, side dishes and vegetarian items are served, all free, at no cost.

Tickets are provided through a raffle system, favoring seniors, people with mobility difficulties and those with young children. Everyone not eligible for early entry goes on a different color ticket system and are promptly served.

Market organizers said they are looking to fill the gap between the days that Community Sharing is closed on the weekend. They’re attempting to reach out to the demographic of people that cannot pick up food pantry items on the weekday or if additional food or clothes are necessary.

Free Community Market offers a Sunday afternoon window at the site to give away goods for families of all sizes. Adding a barbecue element to a food box pick up elevates the general atmosphere of the crowd. With a P.A. system on-hands, musicians are welcome to come and entertain those waiting.

As people check in, they can take brochures and resource guides. Everyone is given a raffle ticket. While families wait, kids are given chalk for drawing or bubbles to blow. As the barbecue commences, those with special needs and children in attendance are first given a chance to go through clothes or take dry goods, then everyone else.

Volunteers travel to places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in Eugene to recover fresh produce, prepared foods, meat and bread. They then sort and organize the groceries for the public.

Shoppers often become core volunteers. The market depends on a group of more than 20 people to make the event work. Many play important roles in the organization, and it is those that chip in that also benefit from picking through goods first.

Free Community Market had been temporarily funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but as funding is ending, the market is now completely supported by volunteers and private donors to keep costs as low as possible.

Community Sharing Executive Director Mike Fleck aims to help use the non-profit as a fiscal sponsor or designate donations to Free Community Market though the Community Sharing Program.

At the moment, Community Sharing is only allowing the market to use the facility as a location for the events, though their partnership may strengthen in time as their goals merge.

Besides a need for volunteers, Free Community Market is also looking for community partnerships to enrich the variety of items they can possibly give away besides food and clothes, like diapers and propane. A recent non-profit donor to the market set up three low-income families with internet service.

People are encouraged to be on time to the Sunday event as food and clothes go fast but, when there is excess, it goes back to the Community Sharing Program. Free Community Market is also looking for a refrigerator and a freezer for perishables, garden vegetables, fruit, honey, food for pets, a canopy and heaters for events during colder weather.

Donations can be made directly to the Free Community Market.

“All of the generous donations go to help feed and clothe families in our community, a similar vision that Community Sharing Program has also shared since its inception in 1982,” one market organizer said.

Free Community Market is an independent, low-barrier, mobile food pantry. It can be reached by email [email protected] or by attending an in-person event on Sundays between noon and 2 p.m. at Community Sharing Program, 1440 Birch Ave, Cottage Grove.