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County delays food pantry agreement


All funds must be raised before construction can begin

by:  JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Community Sharing wishes to build a food pantry facility on the property of Meridian United Church of Christ.The construction of a new food pantry facility in Wilsonville is still chugging along, but hit a small hiccup last week.

The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners was set to approve a $240,000 grant for Wilsonville Community Sharing at its Dec. 12 meeting when Chairman John Ludlow pulled it from the consent agenda.

“There are a lot of things we are looking into to make sure all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted,” Ludlow explained.

For the community comment portion of the meeting, Ludlow told the audience that he knew several people wanted to comment on the proposal, but that he wished to pull the item from the consent agenda for “further review.”

WCS is a volunteer-led nonprofit that operates a food pantry and offers referral services for utilities, prescriptions and rent. It has operated for 14 years out of the Meridian United Church of Christ on Boeckman Road, also known as Frog Pond Church.

For nearly three years now, WCS has wished to expand beyond its current location. In January, the group stated publicly that it had identified three potential sites to build a new facility, thanks in part to a $240,000 community development block grant awarded by the county in July 2012.

Currently, the Wilsonville Food Bank uses the basement and space in the north wing of the Frog Pond Church. It is open on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. But with continued growth and need in the community, the current location has proved to be too small. WCS Chairman Rich Truitt told commissioners Dec. 12 that WCS aided 5,000 individuals and 1,500 families in 2012.

As far as the future goes, the group has announced plans to construct a modular facility on land owned by Meridian United Church of Christ, at 6750 SW Boeckman Road. It has signed a 25-year renewable lease for permission to use the land at the starting rate of $6,000 a year for five years. Total project costs are currently estimated at $800,000, according to Truitt.

The commissioners were to approve a cooperative agreement between the county and WCS for the food bank expansion.

The grant is a federal HUD (Housing and Urban Development) community development block grant. Though the money comes from the federal government, the county manages the project and assumes ownership of the construction contract, according to Chuck Robbins, county community development director.

Wilsonville Community Sharing must match at least 20 percent of the grant, according to stipulations, and the project cannot start until the matching funds have been raised. Although it is unclear how much the nonprofit currently has in its coffers, a Jan. 9 Rotary presentation will be the first fundraising push, according to Wilsonville Community Sharing minutes from a Nov. 5 meeting. WCS will have 24 months after signing a contact with the county to raise the funds.

“We would want 100 percent funding in place before we award a construction contract,” Robbins said.

Despite testimony from Truitt and three others at the county meeting, the commission opted to not act on the agreement at the meeting. According to Commissioner Jim Bernard, a citizen has spoken at previous meetings concerned about the separation of church and state, suggesting the agreement was unconstitutional.

Long-time WCS board member Cheryl Kelly told commissioners the need for food and assistance continues to grow in the Wilsonville community and WCS needs room to grow as well.

“We desperately need a new facility,” WCS board member Wes Morris added. “We need the space, we need to expand.”

“This is a community-based organization,” Truitt said. “We rely heavily on community support and enthusiasm to take care of those in need in the community. We have been in the process to develop this building for four years.”

Though all of the commissioners praised the work of WCS, there were still some outlaying concerns.

Bernard brought up the constitutionality of contributing to a religious organization, which he said has been brought up several times.

Although Truitt clarified that WCS is an independent organization and has nothing to do with the church, commissioners said the fact that the facility would be on church property could be troublesome.

However, Commissioner Martha Schrader was not one of them.

“I have never seen this is an issue of mingling church and state,” she said.

Commissioner Paul Savas, who lives in Wilsonville, said, “We are here facing a constitutional challenge. Hopefully we can find a way to navigate a solution.”

According to Robbins, the agreement could be rescheduled for the Jan. 9 Clackamas County Board of Commissioners consent agenda.

Lori Hall can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 103. Follow her on Twitter, @wspokesman.