The Brookings-Harbor Community Helpers Food Bank in Brookings is holding its own. Yet officials there anticipate an array of challenges related to demand, space and cash in the future, volunteer Connie Hunter told the Brookings City Council late last month.

Hunter was there to urge the council to help “bust the stigma” of mental illness, poverty and homelessness and encourage others to donate or volunteer. Representatives from other food banks gave similar presentations to county commissioners later in February.

Hunter said there have been a few times in the food bank’s history the nonprofit has been challenged, including when Ray’s Market in Brookings and Shop-Smart in Harbor closed — that meant a 6,000-pound loss of donated food every year — and during the Chetco Bar Fire in 2017, when virtually overnight, 700 more people needed assistance during the six weeks of the disaster.

“We’ve weathered many storms since then,” she said. “The community always steps up, and we seem to always find the money.”

The bank’s van was stolen in 2016 and it didn’t get it back for four months. It has also had to deal with increased numbers of homeless people since the Ninth District U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruling last September that prohibits arresting people for sleeping on public property. Throngs of homeless ended up sleeping in parks and at Chetco Community Public Library in Brookings here for a couple of months after that — many of them needing food.

Hunter reiterated to the council, however, the majority of people the food bank serves aren’t homeless, but veterans, financially-strapped families and elderly people living on fixed incomes.

“We see our community members not as takers but as people trying to make a go of it in a frontier county,” she said. “We hear all the time, ‘I used to donate regularly, and now I have to use the food bank.’”

In 2019, Hunter said, the food bank’s budget is $153,421 for food and overhead and they hope to raise $162,000 for its capital campaign for additional storage. She said the bank’s original goal was to move into larger facilities but is holding off and making do.

The bank’s 226 volunteers put in more than 4,500 hours — valued at $110,000 — last year.

“We see our work as doing right by our neighbors,” Hunter said. “It’s a heck of a good group of people to work with.”

In 2018, the bank served 32,697 people — many of whom are repeat clients — including 4,291 boxes to food to local families, 11,000 people at the daily counter, and more than 8,500 snack packs to students each year, over triple the number it served in 2017.

Money goes further than food donations, too, she said, as the bank is able to purchase food through the state for pennies on the dollar — and that appropriation has not been raised in years.

“We’re doing good,” said food bank Executive Director Pamela Winebarger. “We’re not fat and sassy, but we’re making it happen.”

Beyond Rejection Ministries

The Gold Beach food bank also faces similar challenges, said Lyla Thorpe, who represents the Seventh-day Adventists with the bank. It offers a Tuesday night soup kitchen, provides people with a warm place to shelter during cold snaps and breakfast before they leave the next day.

“I’m hoping one day we’ll have a center we can run for the homeless,” she told commissioners, of a permanent shelter for which many have been calling.

Beyond Rejection entered its 35th year of operation in 2019, said Director Jim Johnson, saying that without help from the Catholic men’s group, he wasn’t sure they’d be able to meet the demand the bank sees.

They estimate there are about 30 homeless people in Gold Beach, but most of those who use the bank, like that in Brookings, are locals on limited budgets, veterans and students.

“In the last year, the average homeless person coming through is a male in their 30s, not drug addicts or alcoholics,” Johnson said. “They want to work. They’re coming from other parts of the county; that’s becoming (the more common face) of the homeless traveler through Curry County.”

As a lay minister at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Gold Beach, Johnson said they play a part in a community emergency.

The church is on a hill and probably protected from a tsunami, the basement has been designated a warming center, there are 300 dried meals on hand, and water and clothing are stored there as well.

Common Good

Port Orford faces even harsher situations, said Alice Loshbaugh, of Common Good food bank, where one in four people use the services in a town where many are in poverty, almost 20 percent of its students don’t have a steady residence and kids go to school hungry.

Two years ago, the bank distributed 200 boxes of food per month; that has increased to 450, representing 1,100 visits. Exacerbating the workload was the partial-government shutdown at the beginning of the year and the death of their pantry manager, Judy Fladger, in mid-February, she said.

Fladger agreed to volunteer as the manager for six months when the previous one departed, and ended up staying for several years.

“The high school is coming to us saying the kids are hungry,” she said. “We’re sending everything we can up there. It amazes me how much we try, the more the need is. It just keeps growing.”

It didn’t help, either, when the food bank in Langlois closed.

But when the food bank sends out a plea, she noted, the community responds.

“If we ask, it comes,” she said. “When we’re totally out of food, it always happens: 50 dozen eggs, garden stuff…”

She noted the city provides the high school’s vegetable garden with water that would otherwise total about $500 a month. And Oregon State University’s extension program has brought its master gardeners to the town to teach kids how to make meals out of unusual foods such as kohlrabi and lentils.

She said the community was about to lose its Meals on Wheels program and the food bank is unsure if they can take it over.