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Unitus Community Credit Union awards AWARE Food Bank $50,000 to support local farmworker sites

When an arson destroyed a local food bank that serves more than 1,500 people each week, an entire community rallied around it.

"My initial reaction was shock," explained Gabby Pena, executive director of Woodburn's AWARE Food Bank. "The fear of somebody being hurt or injured was the initial reaction. After that it was just a flood of concern for our community losing this resource." COURTESY PHOTO: AUTUMN FOSTER - AWARD Food Bank Director Gabby Pena receives a check from Unitus President and CEO Steven Stapp.

That was in August, about the same time the Delta variant of the COVID-19 pandemic was surging. Yet, the food bank quickly pivoted and began serving the community with a drive-thru pantry. Chemeketa Community College then provided AWARE with a temporary facility, which is where operations are currently being conducted.

As AWARE works to rebuild, the organization's commitment to the people it serves remains steadfast.

Even amid the destruction of AWARE's physical space, the food bank has managed to continue food delivery service to migrant farmworkers twice a week. A practice Pena says is crucial to local families.

"We're able to go out to rural locations where we understood our clients were not able to make it to the resource of the food bank based on the hours they were working, as well as possible transportation issues," Pena said.

When Unitus Community Credit Union learned about the arson at AWARE, leaders began looking for ways to support the food bank and this vital farmworker program. While working on a big-picture solution, Unitus learned the farmworkers didn't have raincoats during the blustery fall season. The credit union donated $2,000 to purchase 300 raincoats to support those working in the fields.

Knowing there was still so much need, credit union leaders and Unitus' Board of Directors decided the organization needed to do more. On Dec. 21, Unitus President and CEO Steven Stapp and other leaders surprised Gabby Pena with a $50,000 check to support the food bank. The donation will help fund the Farmworker Program Coordinator position, which organizes mobile food distributions to local farmworker sites and housing communities. Funds are also allocated to replenish food and supplies lost in the fire.

"One of the things that we have really worked on with our community is to build trust and to continue to be a reliable resource to them and that's what we're able to do with this partnership," Pena explained.

"We are proud to support AWARE Food Bank and the people it serves," Stapp said. "One in four Oregonians experiences food insecurity. No one should have to make a choice between eating and paying rent. AWARE helps fill the gap for thousands of people, so they don't have to make that choice. This donation is just the beginning of what we hope will be a successful partnership for years to come."

In the meantime, AWARE continues to serve members of the local community through its food bank and its delivery programs. The food bank, which is part of Marion Polk Food Share, is working to rebuild its facility while maintaining operations with the support of the city of Woodburn and Chemeketa Community College.

Unitus Community Credit Union

Unitus is a member-owned local credit union with 104,000 members and more than 300 employees which engages in a variety of philanthropic activity. Through partnerships with local organizations, Unitus supports community groups through volunteerism and financial donations.

Unitus donated $464,718 to nonprofit organizations in 2021, a 45% increase over 2020.

Learn more about Unitus by visiting unitusccu.com.


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