Fighting food insecurity
Nine years ago, when Phil Rees was still new to West Linn, he walked into the West Linn Food Pantry for the first time after seeing an ad for volunteers in the Tidings.
After moving to town, he had more flexible hours at work, and, as someone who likes to stay busy, he thought volunteering might be a good way to fill his time.
"I thought I could do this, and I got started, and one thing led to another and another — and now I'm chairman of the board and the executive director," Rees said.
The city of West Linn recently named Rees the ninth annual recipient of the Robert Moore Award for his service at the pantry.
The West Linn City Council honored Rees for the award, named after the city's founder, at its meeting Monday, Feb. 8.
Rees told the council that the award meant a lot to him, but noted that the food pantry is a team effort. Last year, the pantry helped feed an estimated 4,800 people in the community.
After nine years of working at the food pantry, Rees said he's learned not to be judgmental of others.
"Somebody will roll up in a Mercedes or Land Rover and want a box of food and when I got started, I thought if you have a car like that, why would you need food?" Rees told the Tidings. "But as it was explained to me, maybe they're living in their car. So now those types of things don't even enter my mind."
Five years ago, Rees's desire to fight food insecurity in the community stretched beyond the food pantry to West Linn schools. He and his wife then launched the "Homeplate" program.
Rees explained that the program is similar to a national program called Backpack Buddies, which provides students who qualify for free and reduced lunch with food to take home over the weekend when they won't be able to access school meals.
"I worked on this for some time and I kept hitting a lot of roadblocks in my efforts," Rees said.
One day while working in the food pantry, Rees decided to walk down to Willamette Primary School to give administration one last pitch for the Homeplate program. The school told him it just wasn't possible.
Five minutes after Rees returned to the food pantry, school staff came through the door and told them they had changed their minds. The staff gave him input on items students might need and want and Rees began filling bags.
Last year, in the program's fourth year, Homeplate — which is funded by Rees and his wife, Kathy — helped feed about 70 students from six primary schools.
Out of nine nominees for the award, Rees was selected by the city's past award winners: Alexana Kachirisky, Lisa Clifton, Dave Kruse, Larry McIntyre, Don Kingsborough, Dave Kleinke and Roger Shepherd.
"Phil donates so much time to ensure that so many of our citizens have the food resources they need," Kent Nelson wrote in his nomination of Rees.
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