by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Salvation Army Capt. Raymond Dihle says the annual Lambs Thriftway Food Box Program is an integral part of the Armys annual effort to help those in need in the Portland area.It started with one person working nights in his Wilsonville garage back in 1986.

Today, the Lamb’s Thriftway food box program provides emergency relief for hundreds of families in the south metro area each holiday season. It’s well beyond what Fred Preston envisioned when he began putting together food boxes for local families during the Reagan administration. But the need for such assistance has never diminished, and in this era of economic uncertainty it is likely greater than ever.

“The need is ever increasing,” said Salvation Army Capt. Raymond Dihle. “During the whole year we look like we’ll be winding up serving around 45,000 people in the Portland and south metro area.

“It’s often a thought that we know we have the Lamb’s program, but we always wonder how we’re going to meet the need this year; and it’s the main way we meet Christmas needs and beyond.”

This year, Lamb’s Thriftway is looking to make the Christmas season brighter for families in need by supplying up to 1,000 packed food boxes to The Salvation Army through the company’s food box program.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Salvation Army and Lambs volunteers put together enough food to fill more than 1,000 of these food boxes each holiday season. Shoppers at four Lamb’s Thriftway Markets, including the Town Center location in Wilsonville, can sponsor a food box for $25. This provides food worth $40 to each family receiving a box. Then, for every seven boxes sold, Lamb’s will donate one additional food box to The Salvation Army.

“Most of our employees have been with us a while and know the program,” said Lamb’s Store Manager Mike Dipari. “There’s so much going on and this is part of it. We have the bell ringers outside, the trees are being sold, it’s just one more thing, but it’s our biggest promotion of the year. We’re donating and promoting in the community all year long, and with the economy the way it’s been, our donation budget is pretty bloated ... but this is our biggest thing that we do.”

The program originally started in the back of a garage owned by Preston. But in true Wilsonville style, the food box program was taken up three years later by Lowrie’s IGA, which served as a hub of local activity for many years until its closure in 2000. Lamb’s took on the program the same year and has since expanded the effort to all Lamb’s Markets in the tri-county metro area. The result is that nearly 15,000 food boxes have been distributed to the community in the past 13 years.

Dipari recounted the story of Lamb’s taking the program over. It’s still related each year by employees at the chain’s metro stores, some of who actually worked for the Lowrie family before the 2000 closure.

“The story (one employee) tells is that Mr. Lowrie turned away a beggar on Christmas Eve one year and it really struck him, and that’s when he decided to take over the program,” Dipari said. “He decided they needed to do something to make a difference.”

When Lowrie’s closed for good, Dipari added, the Lowries approached Lamb’s about ensuring the program continued.

by: SUBMITTED  FILE PHOTO - Here is the result of one of last years build-a-box days held by Lambs and Salvation Army volunteers. “We had a good relationship with them being independent grocers in the same community forever,” Dipari said. “Our owners talked and they decided to keep the program going and not let it die.”

“So it’s been running uninterrupted for 25 years,” Dihle added. “The need does nothing but grow. Every year we see this at our social service facility (in Portland) and it just grows and grows.”

Each food box recipient receives an estimated four days worth of food. The items range from instant mashed potatoes and gravy to canned fruits and vegetables and bread. Enough, in short, to combine everything into a suitable holiday feast if the recipient is so inclined. Topping everything off is a gift certificate for a turkey, ham or other meat-based centerpiece.

The program actually started Nov. 1 with the introduction of food boxes to the checkout lanes at Lamb’s supermarkets. Now, employees at the four participating stores are preparing for the finale.

“We traditionally kick it off on the eve of our holiday show each year,” Dipari said.

“And typically, year after year, a week before Christmas, Lamb’s and The Salvation Army get together and do what’s called a build-a-box,” said Dihle. “We have a day where a good percentage of the boxes are done.”

Dipari said Lamb’s does it in two stages, the first of which took place Monday in Wilsonville. There, roughly half the food donated by the chain was delivered in readiness for the upcoming build-a-box effort.

“Last year we built 700 boxes in the week before Christmas so we’d have them ready to hand out at Christmas time,” Dihle said. “After that we’ll have another build-a-box session and we’ll put them together as needed at The Salvation Army. We had right around 1,000 boxes last year, which is pretty amazing considering the economy. It really says something about Lamb’s customers.”

In the future, both Lamb’s and The Salvation Army would like to branch out that partnership to accept new partners. All the better, they say, to get more food into the hands of those who need it most.

“Whether it’s other churches, companies or organizations,” Dihle said, “the need is great and we’d love to see it continue to grow.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - These pallets of food were delivered to the Wilsonville Lambs Thriftway Monday morning. Its just a fraction of what will be given away this year as part of the companys Food Box Program.

At a glance:

Lamb’s Thriftway / The Salvation Army food box program

There is still time to get involved. For $25 you can purchase a food box at any of the four Lamb’s Thriftway Markets, including the Wilsonville location. Your donation amount will be printed on your grocery receipt.

The program runs through Dec. 24. at the following Lamb’s locations:

  • Lamb’s Garden Home Thriftway, 7410 SW Oleson Road, Portland
  • Lamb’s Palisades Thriftway, 1377 SW McVey Ave., Lake Oswego
  • Lamb’s at Stroheckers, 2855 SW Patton Road, Portland
  • Lamb’s Wilsonville Thriftway, 8255 SW Wilsonville Road, Wilsonville
  • Details:, 503-682-9053

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