Brookings-Harbor Community Helpers Food Bank volunteers didn't expect to see an increase in people using its services the first two months of 2014.

They expected to see a small uptick in need and possibly an equally small decline in donations after five businesses - Shop Smart, Pharmacy Express, Chetco Pharmacy, the Brookings Inn, and the Nautical Inn immediately south of the border - closed their doors.

But they didn't think it would be an 18 percent increase in the number of boxes distributed over the same two months last year. Nor a 13 percent increase in the number of clientele - and a 36 percent decline in donations

"It's insane," said food bank Director Julie Davis. "I'm very worried. The Lions gave us 1,600 pounds of food, and it's gone. Gone. Shop Smart used to give us about 1,200 pounds of food - a lot of dairy, a lot of milk - and now they're gone."

She said the food bank spent about $3,000 on food in February alone; usually that's about $2,400.

The food bank gets no government support; an annual grant from the United Way averages about $1,700 and a $3,250 grant came from the Wild Rivers Community Foundation. The rest of the money needed - the bulk - comes from private donations.

"The generosity, I swear, of the community - it's astounding," Davis said. "It's a lot of money. Pretty amazing, huh?"

Food sources

Last year, the Community Helpers Food Bank expenses were about $50,000, with $23,000 going to food; the rest goes to administrative costs, utilities and insurance, among other expenses.

"Money spent ($23,000) to buy food doesn't include the value of donations of (actual) food," she explained. That figure totaled $4,428 last year.

And when purchases are made, the food bank saves - a lot. All produce - from a retail-priced 89-cent banana to a $3 melon - costs the bank 18 cents a pound.

Davis admits administrative expenses, even for a non-profit, can run surprisingly high.

For example, Davis is paid $18,000 to operate the food bank, but other annual expenses include an average of $774 a year in director's and officer's insurance; $3,400 for utilities; $576 for trash; and $1,300 for telephone and Internet services.

Cost-cutting measures this year will include selling a van, thus eliminating $700 a year in insurance, and cutting back on food purchases.

"It sounds like it's defeating the purpose - cutting food to cut costs - but because we offer such a diversity of food, the costs can really get high," Davis said. "We eliminated canned spaghetti, canned fishes; people don't get 'helper' dinners. Instead they get noodles and tuna."

Davis likes to remind people that the food doesn't "just" serve the homeless, but those in the community on limited incomes or just eking by.

"It's not just homeless people," she said. "It's families with little children."

And surprisingly, this year, it was people from California who, in the first two months of 2014, sought assistance in Brookings.

"For some reason, we saw an influx in the last month or so," Davis said. "We'll give them enough for a day or two, and direct them to their own food banks."

There are five or six food pantries in Crescent City. Davis wonders if reduced hours - or less food - there is to blame for the Californians looking for help from their northern brethren.

The gap created by the unexpected spike in food requests coupled with the dip in donations has Davis brainstorming for ideas.

David Allen Insurance officials have started a food drive among merchants in town, and Jesse Orozco has promised to perform a benefit concert in April. People are always free to contribute food to the bank - preferably non-perishable and non-expired commodities.

Brookings-Harbor citizens are welcome to come in, present proof of address, and receive a box of food once a month.

The local food bank purchases its food from the Oregon Food Bank and accepts donation from the public and local stores at its facility at 539 Hemlock St.

But $1 in cash goes a lot further than the donation of a couple cans of corn, Davis said.

"At a grocery, it might cost someone $1.29 for a can of tuna," she said. "We can get it for 79 cents. We can get mac-and-cheese for 39 cents. I think that's 89 cents at the lowest."

And monetary donations are always accepted and can be mailed to PO Box 1415, Brookings OR 97415.