Community in action: Sandy food pantry celebrates 60 years
The 1960s were a far-out time for Sandy. This was the era four-lane Highway 26 was constructed from Gresham to Sandy, when the property that would become Meinig Memorial Park was purchased by the city and when the first steps were taken to realize the dream of the Sandy Community Action Center.
That dream became a reality when SCAC officially formed in 1969, and the center gained its physical home in 1983 when the Sandy Post Office moved to Wolf Drive.
Now, six decades later, that mission holds steadfast as the need for assistance in Sandy grows.
The idea for the center was inspired by a need for resources in the community that could serve those suffering from food insecurity. The organization serves anyone suffering from food insecurity in the Oregon Trail School District, offering both a food pantry and thrift store at 38982 Pioneer Blvd.
Last spring, the center was serving an average of 48 people per week, according to action center Executive Director Kirsten Pitzer. About one-third of those families were either new to the center or families the center hadn't served in quite some time, through a drive-thru food box program.
That increase in demand came at the same time as a shortage in volunteers. While the action center once had a vibrant volunteer community, the pandemic has led to a decrease in willing helpers and funds.
"We're still working on getting some traction in our step after COVID," Pitzer said.
Though fewer of the retired crowd of regular volunteers felt safe coming to help at the center last year, the beginning of the pandemic especially brought out a number of people in need of assistance.
One new face that joined the volunteer ranks this past spring is Cathy Blunt. In her retirement, Blunt said she wanted to "give back."
"I feel like I've been so blessed in life and need to give back," Blunt said. "I thought about doing Meals on Wheels or helping at the Salvation Army, but this just fit."
Blunt mostly works as a cashier in the center's thrift store. There are tasks at the center for almost anyone, she said, regardless of ability or comfort level with being around people during the pandemic.
"I love getting to know the people," Blunt said. "Some people come in every day. It's always fun seeing them get a good deal. And it's nice to see those in need getting food to eat. All walks of life come through here. It's a great place to be. You feel appreciated here and I feel fulfilled by helping other people."
In the past few years, the center has begun offering more resources for the homeless population in Sandy, such as its Lunchbox Program. In an effort to provide easy to grab on the go meals, the center has partnered with businesses like Grocery Outlet, 7-Eleven and more to bring in prepared food items like sandwiches and salads and also frozen, microwavable meals that people can heat up at the center and take with them.
"I'm concerned because clearly we don't have housing for them here and it's getting colder," Pitzer said. "My huge concern also is that we'll begin to see more families become homeless."
Nowadays, Pitzer and the volunteers see about 135 families a month come into the pantry, 101 families a month benefit from the center's lunchbox program and 100 families utilize the food box program each month. Pitzer said the center has also seen an influx in homeless individuals coming in, serving about 140 people per month.
"We've also seen the need for food ebb and flow due to extra benefits in the last year," Pitzer said. That said, she adds, she sees the end of federal unemployment benefits and the eviction moratorium only renewing a need and is working to make sure the center is prepared to meet demand.
"We aren't quite as vital now, but I can see that changing," Pitzer said.
As the weather changes and fall begins to settle in, Pitzer said the center is not only in need of volunteers, but of staple items like jam, jelly, canned corn, cat food and seasonal favorites like hearty canned soups.
Regardless of the "rotten times," Pitzer said she tries to see the "silver linings."
"We have really appreciated the partnerships we've had with Grocery Outlet and the city of Sandy," Pitzer said. "I think seeing our community come together to help those in need (is what makes this job rewarding)."
It is uncertain if the center's annual Turkey Trot fundraiser will go on in-person this year at this time, but after last year's outpouring of donations for Thanksgiving food boxes, Pitzer remains optimistic about the holiday season in Sandy.
How to help
Especially during times other than Christmas, the Action Center has a long wish list of things that could help those in need. Some food items that are always appreciated for the pantry and lunchbox programs are:
• jam, jelly
• canned corn
• canned soups
• cat food
• bottled water
• pre-packaged sandwiches
• pre-packaged salads
• individually wrapped microwavable items like pizza pockets and burritos
If you wish to help out financially, visit sandyactioncenter.com to donate. You can also sign up through Amazon Smile or the Fred Meyer community rewards program to have portions from your regular purchases given to the center.
If you can't donate food items or monetarily, consider giving your time. If you're interested in volunteering, contact the center at 503-668-4746 or visit sandyactioncenter.com/our-volunteers.
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