In 2017, Debbie Nelson began collecting food bags from her neighbors in Vancouver to donate to nearby food pantries.

Nelson, along with a handful of neighbors, saw the project as an easy way for residents to give to the community without too much extra time or effort.

“We thought it would just be a neighborhood project, which it was, but then other people started hearing about it and wanted to do it in their neighborhoods,” Nelson said. “Now, I think we have maybe 90 coordinators doing it in their neighborhoods.”

More than five years later, Nelson’s volunteer project has exploded into the Clark Neighbors Food Project, a countywide program that distributes donation bags and hosts food drives every two months.

On Saturday, more than two dozen volunteers with the Clark Neighbors Food Project spent their morning at FISH of Vancouver — the program’s largest food bank partner — to unload and sort hundreds of food donation bags.

By the end of the day, almost 10,000 pounds of new food were placed on the FISH food pantry’s shelves and storage.

“It’s an amazing project. We are so thankful for the Green Bag Project because it really gives us an influx of food,” said James Fitzgerald, executive director of FISH of Vancouver. “People are actually going out and buying specific foods for their green bags, and when they’re at the grocery store, they’ll buy extra.”

The program has almost 100 neighborhood coordinators who invite their neighbors to participate by filling a green bag with extra food. Every two months, the coordinators collect the bags and drop them off at food pantries.

Part of the program’s success is due to its localized focus, Nelson said. By donating the food to local food pantries and school resource centers, volunteers can directly help those who live around them.

Each drive typically brings in more than 20,000 pounds of food to food pantries across the county, Nelson said.

Since the program’s inception in 2017, coordinators have brought 362,870 pounds of food to Clark County pantries, according to Nelson.

“I’m astounded,” Nelson said. “There were a couple of times I thought we might quit, especially during the pandemic … but there were so many volunteers who said, ‘No, we can do this.’”

In the past, coordinators dropped the bags off and left the sorting to the food pantries. But on Saturday, volunteers had an additional task: sorting the food.

“We just started doing this sorting on Saturday,” Nelson said. “It’s a new thing for us, but we’re gonna be doing it every time.”

Fitzgerald said the extra hands and donations are extremely helpful for FISH, which has recently seen an increase in the number of families needing food.

“Usually, we have quite a bit more on our racks, and that’s mainly because our client numbers have more than doubled in the past year,” he said. “We went from 60 families to over 120, and there’s days when we have more than 150 families show up.”

Nelson pointed out that the program operates all year and that she hopes the program will continue to grow in the future.

“Hunger is not seasonal, so neither is the Clark Neighbors Food Project,” Nelson said.

To receive a food bag or to volunteer, go to https://

The program hosts food drives on the second Saturday of even-numbered months. The next food drive will take place on June 10.

Carlos Fuentes: 360-735- 4555; carlos.fuentes@columbian. com;