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Columbia Pacific Food Bank is serving more families as inflation takes a bite out of our wallets.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Standing at a delivery truck, Alex Tardif, executive director of the Columbia Pacific Food Bank, is alongside Ali Hasenkamp, volunteer driver and board member. With inflation driving up energy and grocery prices, a local food bank in Columbia County is taking on added significance for the community.

At the Columbia Pacific Food Bank in St. Helens, executive director Alex Tardif and his staff face new challenges to help struggling families meet their basic needs.

"There's this whole COVID trifecta happening," Tardif said. "There was a bunch of COVID money released, so individuals got higher amounts in their benefits. As that money has dried up and we've seen the cost of food skyrocket, we're starting to see an uptick in more people utilizing the food band and the emergency food program."

Through April of this year, the Columbia Pacific Food Bank served a total of 3,995 people, which compares with 3,563 served during the same period last year, according to the food bank.

For March 2022, in particular, Tardif noted the food bank served 1,101 individuals. That's a huge jump from 987 individuals served in March 2021.

The food bank served 421 households in March 2022, compared with 380 households in March 2021. Household numbers differentiate from individual numbers in that some households have one member, while others could have multiple members.

As we move through the spring months, getting ready for summer, Tardif said, "We're starting to see more and more people coming in for our produce, which is out front, and more people coming in for boxes."

Tardif said boxes typically contain food for three to five days and include such items as beans, peanut butter and shelf-stable food.

"We always recommend that you get your box at the beginning of the month," he said. "You know what you have from the food bank, and then you can build out and plan your meals around it."

With the high cost of food at grocery stories, the St. Helens food bank is confident it has enough supplies to meet its growing needs — although it can always use more donations and volunteers.

"Right now, we're doing a pretty good job of meeting it," Tardif said, noting, "As inflation is where it's at, prices have gotten high. Looking long term, we need to make sure that we have food available to meet that need."

While Tardif hopes to keep enough food available should there be a food shortage, he said it's hard to predict the future.

"I don't know," he said. "Right now, we're seeing a huge shortage in formula and baby food. Last year, there were a lot of empty shelves due to supply chain issues. I don't really know what to expect, but I want to make sure we are prepared for whatever may or may not come our way."

Tardif said the Columbia Pacific Food Bank holds onto 10% of its food for an emergency response, such as a natural disaster.

With the baby formula shortage grabbing newspaper headlines coast to coast, Tardif said his food bank does not buy or stockpile formula, although it accepts donations of formula.

In an effort to help parents feed their young children, the food bank is thinking about holding a cooking class, to teach mothers and fathers how to make their own baby food and preserve it when their child progresses to solid food.

The food bank is also looking at cooking classes and canning classes to help people fight inflation by cooking and preserving the food that they grow.

People can help the Columbia Pacific food bank in a couple of different ways. Monetary donations are always welcome.

"We have a different buying power than individuals," Tardif said, adding, "We can buy at three-to-one. One dollar will provide three meals versus $1 buying a can of soup."

Food donations are also welcomed.

"Right now, as we're heading into garden season, we're asking people to plant one for you, plant one for us," Tardif said. "So, if you're growing tomatoes, grow a tomato plant for you and grow a tomato plant for the food bank, and bring those tomatoes in so we can distribute them to the community."

Tardif noted, "We're trying to partner with our local farms to be able to get produce from them, buy produce from them."

Tardif has been in his current position with the food bank a relatively short time, but he is enjoying his role.

"I cannot picture a better place for me to be," he said. "When this position became available, I couldn't think of a better way to serve my community then to ensure that we're fed."

Visit the Columbia Pacific Food Bank online at cpfoodbank.org.


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