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The USDA, in concert with several local churches, distributes more than 300 25-pound boxes at NHS in the first week of the effort

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Fifteen volunteers from two Newberg churches delivered 25-pound boxes of fresh food to vehicles on June 16 as part of a USDA program administered across the country.

Scores of cars lined into the south parking lot of Newberg High School on June 16 for a chance to receive a free box of fresh food in a program administered through a local church.

Fifteen volunteers from St. Peter Catholic and 2nd Street Community churches distributed 330 25-pound boxes of produce, dairy and meat on a first-come, first-served basis over the course of several hours. The parishioners kept busy transporting the food boxes from the school's cafeteria to the curb, where other volunteers loaded them into awaiting vehicles.

About 150 additional boxes of food were distributed the following day at Northwest Christian Church. In addition, some teachers from the Newberg School District picked up boxes and delivered them to student's families who lack transportation.

The value of the boxes, according to church organizer Jim Seymour, was $18,600.

The effort is part of the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program the U.S. Department of Agriculture is administering under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress to purchase and distribute agricultural products to those in need. It began in mid-May and was made possible through a grant from the USDA. It is expected to continue through June 30.

"We will receive 480 boxes every week for the next few weeks and possibly longer," Seymour said.

The USDA, according to a news release, has partnered with national, regional and local suppliers — especially those whose work force has been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels and other foot services businesses — to purchase up to $3 billion in commodities to fill the food boxes.

The boxes distributed June 16 in Newberg came from Pacific Coast Fruit Co., a Portland firm that won a contract with the USDA to distribute the food and asked the Archdiocese of Portland to help, Seymour said. The archdiocese in turn asked local parishes to join in the effort.

The USDA purchased $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 in dairy products, $258 million in meat products and $175 million in a combination box of products. Suppliers such as Pacific Coast Fruit Co. then packed the products worth an estimated $1.2 billion into family-size boxes and transported them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations and other nonprofits serving people in need.

Depending on the success of the program and the availability of additional funds, USDA officials have said they could extend the duration of the program beyond the June 30 date.

"We thought it went great," Seymour said. "The volunteers from St. Peter Catholic Church and 2nd Street Community Church were great. The partnership with Northwest Christian Church to help distribute the food makes it possible to get to more people, especially people that can't travel."

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