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The Oregonian: Clackamas County food pantry volunteer: People 'like me' are asking for aid

May 22, 2010
Author:
Kristine Thomas
Topics:
OFB General , OFB Network , Hunger

There are a "whole lot of people" who visit the Clackamas Service Center "who are like me," said volunteer Anne Stevens. 

She lost her job in 2008, her unemployment benefits have ended, her husband's wages were reduced by $2 an hour plus he had several furlough days, leaving them with $200 in monthly income after they pay their mortgage, Stevens said.

"We wouldn't have any food if it weren't for the food pantry," Stevens said, adding that she volunteers at the center three days a week to give back. "Whatever we have goes to paying utility and other bills."

In the first three months of 2010, Clackamas County residents received 14,500 emergency food boxes, compared with 13,627 during the same time period in 2009, according to the Oregon Food Bank. That's a 6 percent increase.

The number of people receiving services from the county's 23 food pantries and three meal sites also has increased, by 3 percent, to 47,000 in the first quarter of 2010, from 45,609 in the first quarter of 2009.

Statewide, according to the Oregon Food Bank's most recent statistics, 897,000 emergency food boxes were distributed from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009 -- a 13 percent increase from the 792,000 boxes distributed during the same period in 2007-08. Clackamas County saw a 14 percent increase in the same time frame.

Oregon's unemployment rate has remained flat for the past several months at 10.6 percent, almost a percentage point above the national 9.7 percent unemployment rate, and economists are mixed on whether the state will see any significant economic growth this year.

St. Patrick's, Canby

Bill Piller doesn't need statistics to tell him what's happening. He simply has to look at how quickly food leaves the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Canby.

"We see 260 families a week that we give 50 to 60 pounds of food to," said Piller, the pantry's volunteer coordinator. "We open at 4 each Wednesday, but people have lined up their boxes to secure their place in line by 10. I had 10 people in queue this morning."

Food pantries receive items from the Oregon Food Bank, individual donors, grocery stores and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There also are community food drives. If it weren't for the generosity of donors, Piller said, it would be difficult to feed families in need.

And, he added, people who receive assistance are always grateful. Taking a thank-you card from a desk, he shares what one client wrote: "My husband and I just wanted to say thank you so very much for your help and kindness. We have never had to use this type of help in our 22 years of marriage but due to the economic times you were there to help us through. We don't know what we would have done without you." The husband is now back at work.

Volunteer Pat Swanson greets clients and asks them to sign a sheet asking for a few statistics. Another volunteer takes clients through the pantry, helping fill their grocery carts.

"We see all kinds of people coming here, and we are averaging five to 10 new families a week," Swanson said. "More people are coming here because they can't make it on their own. We don't turn anyone away."

Dennis Britton, 60, a Vietnam veteran, reluctantly visited the pantry for the first time in March. "The fact is I live on a limited income and it's not enough, so that's why I am here," he said. "It was really hard for me to come here, but I was hungry and looking into an empty cupboard."

Volunteer Gretchen McCallum, 52, helps clients take their food to their cars.

"What strikes me the most about volunteering here is I see people I recognize," McCallum said. "A mother brought her young daughter to volunteer and the little girl saw another little girl and told her mother, 'She's in my class.' It was at that moment the girl realized the people who visit the food pantry are regular people that for whatever reason are having a tough time making ends meet."

A man recently told McCallum that he hadn't taken his insulin for his diabetes for two days because he's supposed to take it on a full stomach. "He didn't have any food, so he didn't eat, so he didn't take his medicine," she said.

Clackamas Service Center

At the Clackamas Service Center on Southeast 80th Avenue, director Andy Catts said that on an average day, 75 people stop by the food pantry to pick up three loaves of bread each, 45 people come to eat lunch and 60 people come to eat dinner. In April, the center provided 352 families with emergency food boxes.

"All we require for people to come here is a piece of mail that proves they live in Clackamas County," he said. "If someone happens to be here from somewhere else, we still give them food and share with them where a food bank is closer to their home."

In the past, Catts said, clients came in because they worked seasonal jobs and needed assistance during the off months. "Now we are seeing families who have never had to ask for help before and they don't know what to do," he said.

Catts would like to build a new service center to provide meals, emergency food boxes, medical services, counseling and classes. He has seen a 20 percent increase in clients, ranging from homeless people to senior citizens, each year since 2007.

"Right now we are at capacity," Catts said. "We can't hold any more food to serve more people. In 2009, we gave away 350,000 pounds of food."

Estacada Area Food Bank

The Estacada Area Food Bank, which is open twice a week, served 225 families, a total of 635 individuals, in April.

"We have seen a huge increase in the number of people we serve because of the economy," said volunteer David Piper. "In 2009, there was a 33 percent increase in clients.

"We are seeing senior citizens with no or limited income, and we are seeing a lot of people who are out of work. We are seeing the working poor whose income doesn't make ends meet."

Piper said it's difficult for many clients to ask for assistance.

"A woman recently told a volunteer she was really upset about having to ask for free food and that she had never done so before and it wasn't easy to do so now," Piper said.

Despite the need, Estacada's food pantry wouldn't exist if it weren't for volunteers, Piper said.

"We operate on a budget of $50,000 a year, and we have no paid staff," he said. "Our volunteers donate about $75,000 a year in labor if they were paid minimum wage."

King of Kings, Milwaukie

Debbi Estes, volunteer pantry coordinator at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Milwaukie, said the recession is "affecting everybody."

She is seeing an increase in the number of senior citizens and families using the pantry, which is open twice a month.

"Some days it is 44 families and another it's 57 families," Estes said. "Compared with the first four months of 2009, we've seen an increase of 35 percent in 2010."

In 2009, many people were first-time clients who were like "deer in the headlights," she said.

"They were people who had never had to ask for help before, and they were the ones usually giving to help others," Estes said. "They didn't know where to go for help or what to do."

Estes said pantry volunteers provide information such as how to apply for food stamps and other government or county social service programs.

Some clients visit only once or twice, while others depend on the pantry to survive, she added.

"There is a woman and her husband who are very hard workers, but each only makes minimum wage," she said. "They have a special-needs child, and the wife does a good job of stretching every dollar. They don't have enough to make ends meet, so they come here for help each month."

Any time the door opens, Estes said, it's hard to tell who is there for help and who is there to volunteer or donate.

"You could never pick out of a crowd who is receiving help because they are regular people who live in our community."

Clackamas County food pantries
For general information about Portland-area food pantries, call the Oregon Food Bank at 503-282-0555.

Beavercreek United Church of Christ: 23345 S. Beavercreek Road
Hours: Call for help
Information: 503-724-1095

Clackamas Service Center: 8800 S.E. 80th Ave. Bring a piece of mail less than 30 days old to prove county residency. Those who are homeless will be served.
Hours: 1-3:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, 2-5:30 p.m. Friday
Information: 503-771-7914

Colton Community Center: 30138 S. Wall St., Colton. Open to residents of Colton School District and adjacent communities, including Beavercreek, Canby, Clarkes, Estacada, Molalla and Mulino.
Hours: 2-5 p.m. Monday
Information: 503-545-5918

Estacada Area Food Bank: 200 Clubhouse Drive, Estacada. Open to residents of ZIP codes 97023 and 97022.
Hours: Call for hours
Information: 503-630-2888

Esther's Pantry: 3315 S.E. Harrison St., Suite A, Milwaukie. Open only to those with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis; new clients need a referral from a case manager.
Hours: 2:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday
Information: 503-349-4699

Gladstone Seventh-day Adventists Community Services: 8372 Cason Road, Gladstone
Hours: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday, appointments preferred (call ahead same day)
Information: 503-655-4968

Grand View Baptist Church: 14855 S. Leland Road, Beavercreek
Hours: Noon-4 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of the month
Information: 503-632-8100

H.O.P.E.- Church of the Nazarene: 716 Taylor St., Oregon City. Open to residents of Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oregon City and West Linn.
Hours: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday
Information: 503-656-6536

H.O.P.E.- Cornerstone Community Center: 18955 S. South End Road, Oregon City. Open to residents of Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oregon City and West Linn.
Hours: 1-4 p.m. Wednesday
Information: 503-656-3433

H.O.P.E. - First Baptist: 819 John Adams, Oregon City. Open to residents of Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oregon City and West Linn.
Hours: 1-4 p.m. Friday
Information: 503-656-3854

H.O.P.E.- First Presbyterian: 1321 Linn Ave., Oregon City. Open to residents of Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oregon City and West Linn.
Hours: 1-4 p.m. Tuesday
Information: 503-656-7444

King of Kings Lutheran Church: 5501 S.E. Thiessen Road, Milwaukie. Open to residents of ZIP codes 97015, 97027, 97086, 97222 and 97267.
Hours: 3-5 p.m. the second and fourth Thursdays of the month
Information: 503-659-0990

Molalla Christian Church: 223 E. Third St. Open to residents of Molalla River School District.
Hours: 3-6 p.m. the third Thursday of the month. Reservations requested by the previous Monday.
Information: 503-829-2901

Molalla Service Center: 412 Sweigle Ave. Open to residents of the Molalla River School District.
Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. Harvest program: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month, $4 for four months, $15 for a year.
Information: 503-829-5561

Oak Grove Church: 1908 S.E. Courtney Road, Milwaukie. Open to residents of ZIP codes 97222 and 97267.
Hours: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday
Information: 503-654-0507

Sandy Community Action Center: 38982 Pioneer Blvd. Open to residents of the Oregon Trail School District.
Hours: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
Information: 503-668-4746

St. Vincent DePaul -- St. James Catholic Church: 301 E. Francis St., Molalla. Open to residents of the Molalla River School District.
Hours: 6-7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month
Information: 503-829-2080

St. Vincent DePaul -- St. Michael's Catholic Church: 18090 S.E. Langensand Road, Sandy. Open to residents of the Sandy-Boring area.
Hours: By appointment only
Information: 503-668-3386

St. Patrick's Catholic Church: 498 N.W. Ninth Ave., Canby
Food pantry: 4-8 p.m. Wednesday
Information: 503-701-9135

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