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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Celebrating 5 Years and 200,000 Meals Donated - The Napa Food Project is Hungry for More

June marks The Napa Food Project’s 5th Birthday—and there is a lot to celebrate. First and foremost, the community-based all-volunteer project has collected over 237,000 lbs. of food (200,000 meals) to donate to the Napa Food Bank. The Project has quickly become one of the key threads of the local fabric, and yet another way that this community shows its commitment to giving everyone access to plenty of nutritious food.

The Project was inspired by the Ashland (Oregon) Food Project, which was started by a resident who was concerned about hunger in his community. The founder realized that many of his neighbors were willing to help, but for a variety of reasons, never got around to it. His solution was to make it so easy to donate food that no one who had the ability to do so could refuse! His by-line was: You want to help… We make it easy!

Here’s how it works. Community members volunteer to be a Neighborhood Coordinator (NC), a role that involves recruiting ten or more neighbors or work colleagues to donate one bag of food on the same day every other month. On the designated pick-up day, the NC is responsible for collecting the non-perishable food from all the donors and delivering it to the Food Bank. Each of the many volunteers contributes a little—and the community wins big.

Shirley King, Program Director of the CANV Napa Food Bank and the late Hilary Zunin, Co-Founder of Napa Valley CanDo, heard about the Ashland Food Project and knew it would be just the program to help bring more donated food to the Food Bank on a regular basis. It was a donor drive, not a food drive. It also seemed tailor made for a giving community like the Napa Valley.

The Napa Valley Food Project kick-off meeting was held in March 2016. Almost everyone at that meeting signed up for a role in getting the effort off the ground. The group quickly formed a Steering Committee who began recruiting and training NCs. The first pick-up was held in June 2016, and the group was thrilled to get 2827 pounds of food from 15 Neighborhood Coordinators.

In the five years since, the Napa Valley Food Project has remained dedicated to “Building Community and Sharing Food.” The Project now includes more than 90 Neighborhood Coordinators and 800 Food Donors from Napa and St Helena. The Project “allows us to ensure the vulnerable of Napa County can meet their basic need for food all year round,” says King. She is grateful to the “army of volunteers who have persisted in developing and nurturing a sustainable food supply for the CANV Food Bank.” So far, this grass-roots group has provided almost 200,000 meals for families in the Napa Valley.

King notes that in addition to sharing food, the Project is also building community. As King puts it, “Neighbors helping neighbors….it brings us together.” One example of this comes from the Napa Yacht Club’s experience with the Project. Tom and Susan Kennelly, NCs for the Club, say the Food Project has been transformative for their neighborhood. With the help of eight other families, they deliver about a hundred green bags on every collection day. “Neighbors recruit new neighbors,” they said, “and they are very proud of the fact that our neighborhood has contributed over 10% of the meals each time.”

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of our neighbors are relying on the Napa Food Bank than ever before. Although the Napa Food Project had to pause pick-ups for most of 2020, many of the Project’s food donors were fortunate enough to be able to continue providing meals…by collectively donating $27,000 to the Food Bank!

What will the next 5 years bring? More meals! The Project has resumed donated food pick-ups and is looking to increase the number of Neighborhood Coordinators and Food donors to keep reducing food insecurity in the Valley. Getting started is easy! Contact Frances Knapczyk at to learn about the next orientation for new volunteers.

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