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Corvallis crowdfunding group continues to feed residents for free and keep businesses afloat

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A charitable group is still going strong to keep people in Corvallis fed and local restaurants open during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s On Us (IOU) Corvallis has hosted meals at 30 city restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops. Since the group’s GoFundMe campaign started on April 9, there have been an excess of 640 donors raising over $92,000. As of Friday, the group had spent close to $65,000 on free meals. They plan to donate the rest of the money by August.

“We're inspired by the community's enormous and consistent generosity,” said IOU co-founder Elizabeth Jones, “and our team would very much like to keep the program going through 2020 and beyond.”

IOU typically provides enough money to each restaurant they sponsor for 250 to-go meals. That food is handed out for free — no questions asked — to mid-valley residents.

“In many cases, restaurants have generously prepared more meals so that nobody leaves without one,” Jones said, “and either IOU has covered the extra cost or the restaurant has donated them.”

Enough people have taken advantage of the program, she added, that all the meals at each site have been given away in an hour or less and “no food has gone to waste.”

Other points of pride, Jones said, are that the selection of eateries have been throughout different parts of the city for increased accessibility and that at least half of them have diverse owners.

“We’ve had quite a few families with very young children, we see international students, seniors — just, really, every possible demographic,” Jones said. “We’re really happy about the fact that 15 of (the restaurants) are minority-owned. We’re working hard to be as inclusive as we can.”

On Friday, China Delight Restaurant and Lounge owners Jack and Esther Ng got busy handing out food as early as 11:30 a.m., even though the event was advertised to start at noon. Jones said, as time has gone on since their first free food offering in April, more and more people have arrived early and waited in line at sponsored restaurants.

“It’s helping our business a lot,” Jack Ng said. “There are not many people who dine in, so the take-out orders help a lot.”

Kori Haley and her daughter, Reagan, stood in line to pick up meals for their extended family: themselves as well as Haley’s grandparents, mother, husband (who’s recently been furloughed) and other two kids. Haley said they’ve been able to get IOU meals on three other occasions, too.

“We’re trying to limit being outside the house,” Haley said. “It’s been really nice to go out and try some of the places we haven’t been before.”

As Chinese food orders were being fulfilled, IOU co-founder Aliza Tuttle was also dropping off 100 donated eclairs from Le Patissiér bakery to Stoneybrook Assisted Living.

Jones said she’s been touched by everyone’s patience, willingness to tip waiting staff and efforts to social distance while waiting for their food.

“We've been sobered by the recent increase in infections and believe that IOU Corvallis still has a strong role to play in strengthening the city's economy and helping boost morale during the pandemic,” she said.

IOU saw a dip in donations, Jones believes, from Benton County entering Phase 2 of the statewide coronavirus-related reopening plan. But in June an anonymous donor offered a $20,000 donation if IOU could raise enough money to match it.

“We decided to do the match because we thought that would be the best way to remind people that, basically, the crisis is still going on,” Jones said. “The pandemic is not fading. We think that it’s going to be a long haul.”

The group gave the community two weeks to crowdsource the money. Between July 1 and July 10 they raised the $20,000 needed to get their match.

IOU has also begun trying creative ways to fundraise since its initial take-off.

In June, IOU hosted a virtual wine-tasting. For a registration fee of $100, each participant was sent a basket containing bottles of wine and local cheese from First Alternative Co-Op. A wine expert from Portland led the tasting and a winemaker from Corvallis’ Tyee Wine Cellars as well as a cheesemaker from Albany’s La Mariposa discussed how their businesses had been affected since the pandemic began. IOU held raffles and took donations to allow people to participate who couldn’t otherwise afford the $100 fee.

Jones said the group is also looking into grant funding opportunities.

“We’re very, very impressed by the generosity, but what we’d really love is to see the program continue,” she said. “We still think it’s a model that other communities could benefit from.”

This week’s meal sites will be Crystal's Cuisine & Cafe and Koriander. For more information, visit itsonuscorvallis.org.

Reporter Nia Tariq can be reached at nia.tariq@lee.net.

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