Food bank testing different hours of operation

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor



Donations needed

Mobile food bank volunteers say the most powerful way to help their organization is to donate money, because their organization has the ability to buy food at discount prices. People interested in helping can call the food bank's message line at 360-263-5763 or email

The Lewis River Mobile Food Bank's normal monthly schedule:

• First Sunday: View Fire Station, 37604 N.E. 119th Ave., La Center.

• Second Sunday: Fire District 2 station, 314 N.W. 389th St., La Center.

• Third Sunday: Yacolt Evangelical Free Church, 509 W. Cushman, Yacolt.

• Fourth Sunday: La Center Evangelical Free Church, 111 E. Fifth St., La Center.

Gary Ruzicka makes ends meet by working several odd jobs, and that makes his schedule unpredictable. So he was grateful one Wednesday evening last month to see that the Lewis River Mobile Food Bank was trying out new operating hours other than the group's typical hours on Sunday afternoons.

The La Center man, who has not been able to find full-time employment for about four years, used the food bank's experimental time slot to load up on food for the next month. He's relied on the food bank off and on since falling on difficult times.

"I have a friend, she has a day care over in Portland, and I go over to help her," Ruzicka said. "And if it hits on a Sunday when she needs help, I don't get back in time" to visit the food bank.

When Ruzicka visited on a Wednesday evening last month, the mobile food bank, which stops at different locations throughout rural Clark County, was parked about three miles northeast of La Center at the Clark County Fire & Rescue station.

The mobile food bank was created about three years ago, after volunteers at Highland Lutheran Church realized their in-house community supper program to feed those in need wasn't reaching all of the community.

Prior to the establishment of the mobile food bank, the needs of "these people were not being met because of their logistics, and trying to get to a stand-alone food bank could be anywhere from 20 to 40 miles" away, Candice Howell, the mobile food bank's board president, said. "The cost of gas alone? They just couldn't do that. … We try to fill that gap."

The new hours of operation are an extension of that philosophy: trying to reach the maximum number of people in need.

Those who use the mobile food bank are allowed to visit once a month. The pilot program started with one Wednesday evening distribution time on Sept. 12. In October, the pilot program took place on the 17th. The final Wednesday night distribution is 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, also at the La Center-area fire station, 38615 N.W. 41st Ave.

After that, the food bank's board will decide whether to continue the Wednesday evening program.

During the food bank's Wednesday night hours last month, Ruzicka filled out some paperwork and was given a list of choices to make. Did he prefer diced, puréed or whole tomatoes in his pasta sauce? Chili stew or SpaghettiO's? Peas, corn or mixed veggies? Pears, peaches or fruit cocktail?

Ruzicka said the food bank helps him survive when the money he makes is sucked up by other living expenses, such as rent.

"I've got bills I've got to pay," he said. "I'm four years out of work because once you hit 50, nobody wants you."

In addition to Ruzicka, the mobile food bank was visited by a woman and her daughter who were collecting food for eight people. A young couple with a baby also stopped by.

Changing times and dates won't necessarily meet all of the need in the area, Howell said. Some people who are hungry have mobility challenges that prevent them from leaving their homes. Others are simply too proud to ask for help, she said.

"There's a group of them that, it's very hard for them to come to a food bank, from a pride point of view," Howell said. "They may need to come but they just can't bring themselves. I've had people tell me personally: 'I don't know what to do. I've never had to do this before.' They're very upset."

La Center's Rae Lowery has overcome that particular challenge of being too proud to ask for help. On the outside, Lowery, her husband and their four children live in a nice neighborhood where "there's more pressure to not look poor," so it might appear that they wouldn't need to use a food bank, she said.

But, "it just happens that I really, really need it right now," Lowery said. "It's going to make a really big difference this month to me. It's just been really rough. The holidays are coming up. I spend about $400 a month in gas. It's been really, really tough."

Lowery said her job as an employment specialist for homeless people doesn't pay particularly well, and she has several mouths to feed. Last month was the second time in eight years that she's used the mobile food bank's services.

Lowery was in the public eye this year, when she ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in the 20th Legislative District. She was eliminated in the Aug. 7 primary election. She decided to share her story to show that there's nothing wrong with being poor.

At first, Lowery said she thought: "I don't want people to know I'm poor -- but why? Being poor is not embarrassing. I have chosen to have a big family, and I love having a big family, and it's very expensive, but that's OK."

Lowery also said that the Wednesday evening mobile food bank hours were much more convenient for her.

"Usually (on) Sundays, my day is completely packed," she said.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523;;; or