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Woodburn food bank forges on with helping hand from city after fire renders building unsafe

COURTESY PHOTO: MARION POLK FOOD SHARE - Gabriella Pena, pantry manager with AWARE Food Bank, loads food into a pantry client's vehicle during a drive-thru distribution Thursday, Aug. 19.Hunger doesn't wait or take vacations.

With that in mind, when AWARE Food Bank in Woodburn suffered serious structural damages from a fire on Monday, Aug. 16, food bank advocates and officials from Marion Polk Food Share wasted no time in making sure the resulting closure would be a hiccup and not a long-term disorder.

The fire erupted Monday afternoon, and when public safety responders answered the 3:20 p.m. call they found the downtown Woodburn building engulfed in flames.COURTESY PHOTO: MARION POLK FOOD SHARE - AWARE Food Bank volunteer Rose, right, checks in client Manuel during a drive-thru food distribution.

City of Woodburn spokesman Tommy Moore said that through witness accounts and video surveillance, investigators were able to locate and arrest 24-year-old Manuel Garcia-Martinez a short distance from the fire scene.

Investigators believe Garcia-Martinez threw a lit cigarette into a bush next to the food bank and fanned the flames as the fire burned.

Woodburn Fire District responded to the scene and extinguished the blaze. The building was empty at the time of the fire and no injuries were reported.

City officials subsequently deemed that the food-bank structure located at 152 Arthur St. was unsafe and would remain closed for the foreseeable future. The building suffered structural damage, loss of electricity and a considerable amount of food was lost due to smoke and water damage.

By Wednesday, Aug. 18, MPFS spokesperson Sam Tenney said plans were in place for the first post-fire food distribution the next day during normal pantry hours, 9 a.m. to noon. On Thursday AWARE began conducting drive-thru and walk-up food distributions in a parking lot adjacent to its building. At this juncture, plans are for those distributions to continue at the city-owned lot during AWARE's normal pantry times through Friday, Aug. 27.

"We're currently working with the city to identify a temporary location to use while the building is closed," Tenney said.

Tenney stressed that AWARE is one of the largest pantries in Marion Polk Food Share's partner network and is the primary source of food relief in the Woodburn area. AWARE distributed 1.3 million pounds of food, reaching over 1,500 families every month last year.

In addition to its pantry, AWARE conducts mobile distributions to reach migrant agricultural workers and senior citizens in Woodburn and surrounding communities. This year, community partnerships have resulted in AWARE serving as a school meal distribution point and hosting a mobile shower unit for clients experiencing homelessness. COURTESY PHOTO: MARION POLK FOOD SHARE - Woodburn resident Paul, left, surveys fire damage to AWARE Food Bank with volunteer Rose while dropping off several bags of shelf-stable food donations.

"The closure of the pantry comes at a time when so many are in need, and the demand for food assistance in the area was already high due to the pandemic," Tenney said. "Despite the challenges presented by the fire and building closure, AWARE remains committed to serving the Woodburn community with minimal disruptions and making sure our neighbors continue to receive the healthy food they need."

Moore said the city of Woodburn is providing use of a public parking lot and also assisting the food bank with fencing to secure the site and providing an overnight security person to ensure there are no attempts to enter the unsafe structure. COURTESY PHOTO: MARION POLK FOOD SHARE - Volunteers Mike, foreground left, and Doug, foreground right, package fresh food items during a distribution at AWARE Food Bank in Woodburn

"The city will continue to work with and support AWARE Food Bank as they determine their next steps to rebuild a suitable facility to serve the community," Moore said.

AWARE schedule

What: AWARE Food Bank, downtown Woodburn.

When: Mobile distributions are from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday through Aug. 27.

Where: Parking lot at the northeast corner of N. 1st Street and W. Cleveland St., Woodburn.

Contact: The food bank's phone contact was rendered inoperable by the fire. Calls are currently routed through Marion Polk Food Share, 503-581-3855; email is still This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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