Washington County's food banks adapt to COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed not only changed the face of who has stepped up to deliver food bank services to those in need but also has changed how those services are delivered and at some site, the needed qualifications, to receive help.
On Monday, Beaverton opened its first food donation center ever inside Beaverton's Village Church on Southwest Murray Boulevard. Volunteers busied themselves inside the building's gymnasium, placing cans and non-perishable items next to chairs bearing the items' respective names: chili, peanut butter, vegetables, sauces.
The goal is to ensure that the estimated 15 or so food pantries within the Beaverton School District's boundaries don't run out of needed items, according to Mike Mumaw, the city of Beaverton's emergency manager, who is coordinating the effort.
"One of the needs we saw fairly early on is that ... the normal supply lines that all the different food pantries have, and their levels of donations, have dropped," Mumaw said. "So the first thing we figured was 'let's create a centralized point where we can make it easy for people to donate,' especially those who may have never done food donations before."
Changing needs and practices
Even as supplies have decreased, the community's needs have increased, Mumaw noted. That's what makes it important for food banks to expand their donor bases.
Gerry Edy, who handles donations to the Helping Hands food pantry in Sherwood with his wife, Dottie, predicts there is more demand yet to come.
So far, Edy said while food pantry requests have increased slightly, they haven't ramped up dramatically.
"I think it's because a lot of people, you know, they had a little bit of savings the first month, and maybe one person in the family was still working," he said. "But I'm looking to this May — and if it goes on into June — for the numbers to really, really go up."
As more households find themselves in need, certain regulations and policies are being relaxed to make it easier for them to put food on the table.
Tami Mandrell, office manager for the Salvation Army Tualatin Valley Citadel in Hillsboro, said the pandemic has transformed how food is distributed and what is required to qualify.
While receiving food used to require paperwork — generally involving some face-to-face meeting — that's not the case with the U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxing its normal requirements for those receiving free meat or cheese, all of which is distributed through the Oregon Food Bank.
For the time being, Mandrell said, it simply requires a verbal affirmation by an individual needing assistance, confirming they meet the needed requirements.
"So after we have receive all that information, we have an individual who (puts on the) masks and the gloves and so forth and he walks out to the car, and everybody is instructed to keep the distance and he just places it in their trunk and comes back in and we just go on to the next family," Mandrell said.
Likewise, the Tualatin School House Pantry, located inside Rolling Hills Community Church on Southwest Borland Road, has adopted the COVID-19 protocols as well, with those wanting food not being able to walk inside the pantry and pluck the items off the food bank's shelves. Those in need are being asked to remain in their vehicles while volunteers load up boxes and bags of food, according to Mike Shiffer, Tualatin School House Pantry president.
Still, he said the wait time is not long, and he's encouraging those who need help during these tough times to use the service.
"We are trying to encourage folks to take advantage of this help," said Shiffer. "Our food supply is good, and we are not overburdened. Local donors have been extremely generous with financial donations."
In Sherwood, Helping Hands recently received a boost in the form of a generous $10,000 check from the Shell gas station on Southwest Pacific Highway, Edy said.
"That just really surprised us and thrilled us, because it will go a long way," said Edy.
Like the others, Helping Hands has transitioned to what Edy calls a "drive-thru pantry."
Trying to help
Similarly, the pandemic has closed the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry run out of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Forest Grove.
However, food boxes are being distributed in the church parking lot from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, according to St. Vincent de Paul's website.
"This was not an easy decision to make, since we usually serve over 10,000 people per year" in the Forest Grove, Gaston, Gales Creek and Verboort communities, noted John Moore, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Conference at St. Anthony Catholic Church, in an email.
Moore added, "Knowing that we would be serving our normal clients, plus many, many more that have lost their jobs due to the virus, was a very difficult decision to make."
However, Moore said they made the call out of concern for the safety of St. Vincent de Paul's 70 volunteers from the church parish, many of them 65 or older and with underlying health problems. Experts say the elderly and people with heart or lung conditions are particularly susceptible to complications from COVID-19.
"After having three meetings to discuss if we should try to open at this time, we have decided not to open for the foreseeable future," said Moore. "We will see what our world looks like on the first part of June."
Somewhat surprisingly, it's not the fresh food that is currently in high demand during the pandemic — rather, it's canned vegetables, Mandrell said.
Some volunteers have taken to searching high and low for those vegetables, determined to ensure their local food pantries are able to meet the need.
"We have a gentleman in particular who, that's his mission — he goes and purchases a few flats," said Mandrell. "He'll pick a vegetable, whether it's corn or green beans and he'll purchase it, and he'll bring it to our door, and it's kind of a monthly ritual with him."
The new food donation center at Village Church in Beaverton is set up to collect non-perishable items from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Hopefully soon, Mumaw said, it will get to the point where those items can be distributed to the food banks.
"We decided it's going to be open-ended," said John Jordan, pastor at Village Church, of how long the food distribution center will be open. "We're going to do what's needed at this point."
While the church has a small food pantry, the collections are expected to soon exceed that amount.
Jordan said volunteers at his church are in the process of spearheading an American Red Cross blood drives and have been aiding the Meals on Wheels People in collecting and delivering meals to senior citizens.
In addition, the church has been working with the Washington County Emergency Operations Center as it collects and distributes items to those in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
Its contribution? Collecting an estimated 9,000 packs of disposable diapers.
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