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Homemade jams sweeten menu at food bank

Pat Smythe, a member of Corvallis (Ore.) First United Methodist Church,
fills a jar with wild blackberry jam. UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Oct. 1, 2009 | CORVALLIS, Ore. (UMNS)

Sara Power works her way carefully around stinging nettles, picking wild Oregon blackberries in a park.

Corvallis Church member Corinne
Butzin picks blackberries that
will be made into jam.

Within hours, the berries turn into sweet treats for distribution at area food banks.

“We have abundant fruit here, and it dawned on me that there was no reason we didn’t have jams and jellies in the food bank,” Power says.

That realization led her to launch the Jamming for the Hungry ministry at her church, Corvallis First United Methodist. Since the program began a year ago, she and other volunteers have cooked up more than 1,500 jars of jams, jellies and syrups for several area food banks. Friends say Power can turn just about anything into a delicious jam.

“It’s an incredible vision that she had,” says the Rev. Jim Fellers, church pastor.

Local residents donate plums, grapes, pears, boysenberries and apples from their trees and freezers. And commercial growers and other companies give surplus blueberries, other fruits and frozen juices.

“Probably one of the strangest jams, or at least the hardest to sell to the food bank customers, was the kiwi jam,” Power says. “To get anybody to take it home, we had to give them free samples with a little piece of bread. And now, when we do make it, it disappears instantly.”

Jacquie Buchan, who is diabetic, shops
for low-sugar jam at Philomath (Ore.) Community Services’ food bank.


Some jams and jellies are also made with low-calorie sweeteners so they are safe for diabetics, like Jacquie Buchan.

“When I took the jelly home and tried it, it was probably the best jam or jelly I’ve ever eaten. It was awesome,” Buchan says.

“I’m really grateful that these ladies take the time to do this, especially for us diabetics,” she adds.

A rising need

A reflection of difficult economic times, overall demand for food is up at Philomath (Ore.) Community Services' food bank.

“We have about a 20 percent increase from the last two years,” says Dot Richardson, manager of the food bank. “The numbers just keep going up.”

Sara Power, who founded the Jamming
for the Hungry ministry, prepares a
jar of wild blackberry jam.

Because of health regulations, making jams commercially takes more than an idea and home stove.

Power holds a master food preserver certification. The jam is made in a commercial kitchen in a community annex at Corvallis First United Methodist.

“There’s a lot of paperwork involved. You have to get the kitchen certified for commercial use and distribution,” Fellers says.

About 70 volunteers are involved in the effort, picking berries and gathering other fruits and attending weekly jamming sessions.

Special ingredient

Power, a former United Methodist pastor in Wyoming, is unable to work because of multiple sclerosis. But her physical challenges do not stand in the way of her passion for making jam.

Members of Corvallis Church
prepared more than 1,500 jars of
jams and syrups in the first year
of Jamming for the Hungry.

“Fatigue is probably my biggest issue,” she says. “It feels good to be able to do something, and I think it’s something that I can keep up for quite a while.”

The jams add some needed variety to the food-bank shelves, Power says.

“It’s really nice to not just get the commodities and the boring, same old stuff—the mac and cheese and peanut butter and the rest of the commodities, the canned beans—but to actually get something that’s just a treat,” she says.

Power says she uses no secret recipes. But there is one special ingredient not found in commercial jams.

“They’re all made by hand,” she says, “with lots of, lots of love and care from a lot of different volunteers.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  

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First United Methodist Church, Corvallis

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