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St. Helens Police Department will welcome cash to purchase food for needy local citizens this season.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Columbia Pacific Food Bank Executive Director Casey Wheeler stands in front of his food bank in St. Helens.Columbia County's Donut Day fundraiser is another casualty of the coronavirus.

The annual event, which benefits the Columbia Pacific Food Bank, has been canceled this winter. It has traditionally been held the second Saturday in December, but the police department encouraged local residents to donate directly to the food bank instead.

This has been an especially rough year for area families due to the pandemic.

The food bank has seen a big increase in individuals needing assistance this year compared with pre-pandemic times.

Casey Wheeler, the food bank's executive director, said, "We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of seniors who are now accessing the food bank. Pre-pandemic, we were putting out 12 tons a week. Right now, we are putting out 16½ tons a week. At the peak, we were putting out 19 tons."

Traditionally, Donut Day has been a partnership between the St. Helens, Scappoose and Rainier police departments. Last year, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office held a similar event in Clatskanie.

"The way that it has worked in the past is someone from the St. Helens Police Department goes up really early on that Saturday morning and gets all the donuts from Krispy Kreme," said Wheeler, who is also mayor of Columbia City, just north of St. Helens. "They drop off 100 dozen in Scappoose (to the police department). Somebody comes down from the Rainier Police Department and picks up 100 dozen for them to have in Rainier."

The Sheriff's Office will pick up donuts for Clatskanie.

Wheeler notes about 300 dozen donuts are typically brought to St. Helens.

In describing the traditional Donut Day in St. Helens, Wheeler said, "You can basically donate $10 for a dozen donuts, or you can donate food. For each non-perishable item, you can get a donut."

During Donut Day in St. Helens, patrons would be able to see Santa and Mrs. Claus and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa.

"A couple of the school groups in St. Helens would come in and do Christmas carols throughout the day," Wheeler added. "It tends to be a little bit more of a family event in St. Helens."

At past events, volunteers would accept the cash donations and hand out the Krispy Kreme donuts.

COVID-19 has forced a change of plans for Wheeler and his food bank in St. Helens.

Citizens can still donate, even without Donut Day.

"They can make cash donations," Wheeler said. "They can send us a check to P.O. Box 1031 in St. Helens or they can go to our website, cpfoodbank.org, and make a donation through our credit card platform on our website."

Those interested in helping out can also drop off food starting Jan. 4 at the food bank. Its building is at 474 Milton Way in St. Helens.

Right now, the food bank is closed for a winter break of sorts.

"We do our inventory, we do our deep cleaning of everything, we take everything out of the big freezers and the coolers and clean them out," Wheeler said. "All of the other food pantries in the county are shut down those two weeks, so we can't actually deliver anywhere."

Wheeler continued, "We've always used this time to basically get organized for the New Year. For the start of the New Year, at food banks and all of the pantries, people have to re-register all over again. With the USDA rules, we have to basically pack up everything, store it and start all over again with the new year."

Beginning Jan. 4, food items in particular need include: peanut butter, cereal, spaghetti, pasta sauce and canned soup.

"To be perfectly honest, money works best for us, because we have five times the buying power (individual shoppers) have when they go to the store," Wheeler said. "But we also understand some people just like to go and buy the stuff and bring it to us. That's fine."

Speaking of the fund drives in St. Helens and Columbia County, Wheeler said, "I've been with the food bank for seven years now. I keep telling folks, I'm amazed by the generosity of the folks that live out here."


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