Stemming the tide of hunger

Donna Wengenroth, Barbara Kuehlwein and Julee Grady bag groceries leading up to distribution to patrons. (Photo by Bret Yager)

Food Share fills the widening gap

LINCOLN COUNTY — With a full stomach, we think clearly, stay healthy and carry on with hope. But for too many Lincoln County residents, that search for wellbeing is a daily struggle which — if local and national statistics are to be believed — is getting worse, not better.

At Food Share of Lincoln County, the number of people served and the volume of food distributed has increased by 28 percent since 2012. This assistance is being extended increasingly to families and even struggling young professionals as rents increase and wages fail to keep pace with increased costs of living.

The use of food banks is rising nationally. Their patrons are often frustrated and caught by surprise. Many had thought they would be further along in securing their financial security. 

One patron of Food Share in Waldport knows this first hand. Waiting in her truck outside the building for the usual Tuesday and Thursday hustle to bring in the essentials, this person who asked not to be named recounted how essential Food Share is to her month.

“Everything is changing and people are flooding to the coast,” she said. “Rent and everything is going up, up, up. It’s hard for folks to make ends meet anymore.”

High rent and unexpected illnesses are two of the chief factors that drive residents to the local food pantry, the initiative’s Executive Director Nancy Mitchell said.

“Other food recipients may include seasonally employed, temporarily unemployed, or individuals who have suffered a temporary crisis such as an injury, vehicle repairs, or a high utility bill,” she said.

Last year alone, FSLC took in 985,621 pounds of food countywide and served an average of 4,000 people a month.

“Food programs such as ours support some of Lincoln County’s highest priorities,” Mitchell said. “Children who are adequately nourished make better progress in school. For seniors, good nutrition has been shown to decrease inflammatory responses and improve immune function. For working families, a food box may free up funds for a car payment or gas to get to work.”

The six pantries of Lincoln County Food Share serve as distribution centers for hundreds of thousands of pounds of donated goods — a supply that includes USDA foods, retail reclamation, bulk food, frozen and fresh products.

Volunteers also go around to glean and recover food from local businesses and grocery stores. Food Share last year gleaned 153,000 pounds of sustenance from food industry partners — nutrition that might otherwise have gone to waste.

Close to 175 people work for free with Food Share to help make this happen.

Dale Clark spends so much of his time helping others he received the statewide Veteran Volunteer of the Year Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution a few days ago. Involved in and a leader in more local initiatives than can be named here, Clark has a special place in his heart for Waldport Food Share.

As does Karen Apland.

“It’s a great place; everyone here is so committed,” said Apland, preparing to intake and process patrons leading up to last Thursday’s 1 p.m. opening. “I think all of us feel in some way fortunate in our lives and want to give back. And it’s great for your perspective.”

Apland has found, like many, that it is fundamentally a relief to be of service and to help alleviate inequities rather than merely witness them.

“Sometimes you start your day a little grumpy, then you get here and you feel like wow, I have nothing to worry about,” she said.

FSLC is sponsored by South Lincoln Resources and partners with 24 agencies around the county — a network that includes six food pantries, two hot meal sites, and three backpack programs. It also supplies food to a Lincoln City after-school program, Head Start, My Sister’s Place, Calvary Baptist Produce Plus, Big Creek Senior Apartments, the Senior Box Delivery Program, and new this year through a partnership with Lincoln County Public Health and Lincoln County School District, 4 Veggie RX programs.

Most of its funding comes from individual and business contributions, grants, and special events.

The initiative always needs food and cash donations and increasingly could also make good use of reusable bags, especially with a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags likely to go into effect soon. The Waldport facility on Crestline Drive could also use an overhang so patrons don’t have to stand waiting in the rain.

For more information on Food Share of Lincoln County, call 541-265-8578 or visit www.foodsharelincolncounty.org or find them on Facebook.

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