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Nonprofit and youth program team up to help community

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Prineville's St. Vincent de Paul staff has partnered with Crook County High School's Youth Transition Program

RAMONA MCCALLISTER - Jordan Forbes works in the St. Vincent de Paul warehouse, processing cords and wires from Facebook and Apple.

Many nonprofits operate quietly under the radar in the local community, and St. Vincent de Paul is no exception.

What sets them apart is that this nonprofit provides food for those in desperate need, as well as vouchers for emergency items such as sleeping bags, tents and warm clothing for those without permanent housing.

What many local residents may not know is that St. Vincent provides all these services through the hard work of 53 volunteers, two full-time employees and four part-time employees. St. Vincent de Paul of Crook County is a 501(c)(3) organization located at the corner of NE Court Street and 10th Street. It was established in 1977, and has grown to be the primary food bank for Crook County.

There are about 22,600 residents in Crook County and approximately half live in Prineville. More than 28 percent of Prineville's working-age population (18-65 years of age) had an income below the Federal Poverty Level between 2011 and 2015. During the year of 2016, St. Vincent de Paul helped 11,203 people with food assistance, and over 317 families or individuals with rental, utilities assistance, and clothing assistance. A total of 162,776 pounds of food was collected and distributed last year (2016).

Sources of funds for food purchase and social services are donations from individuals and organizations, collaborative contributions from nine churches, operation of the thrift store and recycling warehouse.

When visiting the nonprofit, one can feel the sense of urgency to provide assistance for the community through the food bank and the store. The very existence of St. Vincent de Paul is reliant upon support from partners in the community, the store, and recycling through the warehouse.

"The financial support of our business relies on activities of the warehouse and store to pay a lot of the baseline costs," explained Prineville St. Vincent President Jim Rodosevich.

"We collect nearly 800,000 pounds of clothing per year from various sources," he added.

Aime Cornelia, manager for the store and warehouse, said that at least 80 percent of the materials they collect are recycled. Money from recycled cans and bottles goes into the cost of food for the food pantry. The volunteers in the pantry keep it clean and organized, in addition to providing customer service to patrons.

"Everything — and the efforts that we make — is for the community, to make sure there is a meal, a bag of groceries or utility or rent assistance," pointed out Cornelia.

Rodosevich indicated that donations come from sources in John Day, Burns, La Pine, Redmond, Bend and local sources in Prineville. These donations, as well as walk-in sources, include shoes, books, toys, and other items, which are shipped to a recycler.

Much of the materials, or most, are baled and shipped every two weeks to a recycler in Seattle, Washington. The poundage from these shipments generates revenue. Other donations include various recyclable materials from Apple and Facebook, including cans and bottles, metal and copper wire, aluminum, steel, and various raw materials which are converted to recycle value.

Very little material is taken to the landfill, a positive for the local environment. Most items that go through the warehouse are either baled and sent to Seattle, or put into the store for sale. Revenue from the various activities goes back into the food bank, housing vouchers, and vouchers for the store for items like sleeping bags, warm coats and tents for those needing such emergency services.

Commodity eligibility requirements are based on family size and income, but many of those who seek assistance are homeless and/or don't have much of an income.

Over the past year, St. Vincent has partnered with the Youth Transition Program at Crook County High School. Through a grant from Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the local YTP program was able to work with St. Vincent de Paul to hire three youth to work part-time in the store and warehouse. The partnership provided youth who had very little work experience to learn skills at the worksite, while providing services that generate income for the agency. This arrangement has been a win-win for the students and St. Vincent de Paul.

Cornelia commented that it is a great value to the store, warehouse and food bank to have the youth working there.

"It helps the community by having them here, because all the recycle money goes into food."

Linda Holes, the manager for the Food Bank, said that having the youth has been a good thing for the local nonprofit.

"I think that they are really good (for the business)," commented Holes.

Cornelia added that having a youth helping in the store to keep it clean and organized is a huge benefit. YTP student, Miranda Smith has worked in the store since July 2016. The other two YTP youth, Kywnn Voss and Jordan Forbes, work in the warehouse.

"Kwynn lifts my day up — he comes in and he's so happy. He puts the shoes together for us," Cornelia added with a smile.

Forbes has worked in the warehouse since October 2016.

"This job has helped me with confidence and work skills. It has really helped me be a better person," said Forbes.