The food bank that sustained heavy fire damage last summer is in a good position to rise from the ashes, thanks in large part to federal money and local decision-making.
The Woodburn City Council was presented with a supplemental budget by City Administrator Scott Derickson and Finance Director Tony Turley at a public hearing during its Oct. 25 meeting. The supplemental budget underscored help for a lot of area charities and nonprofits, including $500,000 to help rebuild AWARE Food Bank.
"In this proposed budget is the allocation of our Federal American Recovery Act dollars, that are intended to apply toward COVID-related impacted community losses," Derickson explained. "What you see in this budget is … significantly providing resources to a host of our nonprofit community service providers. These are largely relationships that have been forged through the COVID pandemic and are designed to help support our community.
"As we all know, Woodburn was a vulnerable, at-risk community that was severely impacted by COVID," he added. "These dollars will go to help our service providers address our community's needs in ways that the city just can't do under the type of organizational structure we have as a city. So, we need these partnerships."
The total American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allotment in the budget was $2,559,500. While AWARE received one of the larger awards, other nonprofit beneficiaries included Liberty House, $40,000; Love Santa Food Box Assistance, $25,000; Love INC, $8,000; Business Assistance Program, $65,000; and the Houseless Persons Response Team, $30,000.
The largest allotment within the budget, $1.25 million, went for Legion Park upgrades.
Derickson described AWARE, which was set on fire by an arsonist last summer, as critical support for many members of the Woodburn community, providing well over a million pounds of food annually.
"Having a facility that's adequate to their needs and can meet the needs of our community in the future I believe is worthwhile," Derickson said. "This is an influx of a half a million dollars to supplement the additional ongoing grant programs that the city continues to partner with them on."
He also stressed that the federal pandemic money affords the city this latitude.
"There is no way the city would be in the position to level this kind of support if it weren't for those federal dollars," Derickson said.
Gratitude for support
The online meeting was populated with a handful of nonprofit advocates, directors and organizers who praised the city's attention to the needs of its neediest residents.
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson spoke about the value of Liberty House and having the family-advocacy nonprofit in the northern part of the county.
"As district attorney I just want to say that there are few if any things that we do that is more important that protecting the safety and health of children in our community," Clarkson said. "Our partnership with Liberty House (furnishes) the effort to do that in all facets."
Liberty House Chief Executive Officer Alison Kelley spoke of the vast yet nuanced critical services the nonprofit provides and applauded the city for its support.
AWARE Director Gaby Pena and Marion Polk Food Share Director Rick Gaupo were also on hand advocating the resources allotted to the food bank.
"It's been a massive collaboration since the fire to be able to work together and continue to serve our community with food," Pena said.
She said between Sept. 2020 and Sept. 2021 the food bank served 1,855,951 pounds of food.
"That is a testament not only to the needs our community has but also a testament to the community coming together as a whole, supporting (awareness) and working with us in the ability to continue to serve through the fire and also through the pandemic," Pena said.
Immediately following the fire, the food bank operated as a drive-thru with help from the city. Chemeketa Community College subsequently provided space for it to use.
Gaupo described the city's response following the food-bank fire as "stellar," and the city's partnership with the bank as "crucial."
He noted that there were more than 26,000 separate visits to AWARE last year. The wholesale value of the food distributed through AWARE that year amounts to $2.3 million.
"I just heard on the radio today another conversation about heat or eat," Gaupo said. "If you can't (afford to) heat your home, you might say I need to reduce my food budget; because of AWARE Food Bank, people can heat and eat."
Former Love INC co-director Curt Jones said helping nonprofits work well is something the city of Woodburn does masterfully.
Love Santa had to change its tack somewhat during the pandemic year, helping 450 families with food in the process. Organizer Robert Prinslow said it is in good position to do so again this year.
"The second Saturday of December we're going to be helping 450 families thanks to partnerships with the city," Prinslow said.
The council voted unanimously in favor of the supplemental budget, and members seemed especially pleased to see fund spent where they provide positive services.
"I'm thrilled and touched that we are able as a city to help each other out like this," Councilor Mary Beth Cornwell said. "I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of our leadership to be aware of what's needed and where it is needed."
Mayor Eric Swenson echoed that.
"So many cities and towns have had this kind of (ARPA) money, and I am filled with pride that our city management really thought through the best ways to spend it (achieving) what the money is intended for," Swenson said.
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