Feeding the hungry
Volunteers carefully guide clients through rows of shelves that contain everything from canned meats to cooking oil, from flour to cereal and oatmeal. Freezers and refrigerators sport frozen meats and poultry, eggs, milk and frozen vegetables. The volunteers explain to the clients what is available and how much they can receive once a month based on the size of their family.
The process by which Newberg FISH addresses food instability has been going on for nearly a half century and shows no signs of slowing down.
The goal of the all-volunteer organization, with headquarters in space donated by the Chehalem Park and Recreation District on South Elliott Road in the former Current Electronics building, is "to provide emergency assistance, primarily food, to any and all persons who find themselves in difficulty due to their basic needs not being met because of economic deprivation," said Lisa Blackburn, a FISH spokeswoman.
The numbers back up her claim -- the organization dispenses about 700,000 pounds of food annually – and it takes the greater community to support the effort.
"In 2018, 33 percent of our food was donated by individuals, from food drives or from local grocery stores; 15 percent was purchased from local stores using donated money; 37 percent is from YCAP (the regional food bank in McMinnville that is part of the Oregon Food Bank network) and 15 percent is USDA free commodity food," she said.
And while the number of clients has decreased over the past five years, that's not necessarily a good thing. "We partially have attributed that to the rising cost of rent to live in Newberg," Blackburn said.
She has been a volunteer since retiring 11 years ago; some of the 52 volunteers have been there much longer.
"We have one volunteer who has been with us since 1995," she said, adding "There are no paid workers – we are and always have been an all-volunteer organization."
Those folks wishing to help in the effort, but unable to rise to the level of a volunteer, can do so by donating food or money or both, Blackburn said, adding "We are happy to accept any donations. We can use money to help buy food either from local stores or from YCAP (FISH pays YCAP's 'partner share,' of 14 cents per pound of food, which covers the cost of transportation)."
The stores she mentioned have been generous benefactors of the organization, as well.
"FISH does not solicit donations, but several stores do provide discounted prices," she said. "Nap's Thriftway has donated food, discounted the food we purchase from them (such as milk and eggs) and offers a penny on the dollar for any Nap's receipts we collect and turn back into the store. Grocery Outlet has also become an important partner with us."
FISH is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. The goods collected there are considered a supplemental food box intended to feed a household for five to seven days, Blackburn said.
In addition, the organization distributes Christmas and Thanksgiving food boxes to its regular clients, who sign up for them when they pick up their regular monthly allotment.
"In 2018, we distributed Christmas food boxes to 419 households," she said.
For some people, availing themselves of FISH's largess is a temporary measure until they get back on their feet. For others it is a long-term source of food.
"Some people do transition out of receiving food or move out of our service area," Blackburn said. "Many continue for years."
Linda Waldrip falls into the latter category. She has been receiving food from FISH for nearly a decade and it has made a difference.
"It's been a big help," she said as she wandered through the aisles with the aid of volunteer Sharon Duble, who has volunteered for six years.
Leslie Morse, who has volunteered for seven years, mans what's called the lead team reception desk. "We're the first person they see," she said of the position. "The first impression they get."
Dawn Amidon explained simply her reasons for volunteering the past two years: "Help out our community … Everybody's very grateful."
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