FISH opens new Vancouver pantry

Downtown location allows charity to expand its services

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



If You Go

• What: FISH of Vancouver public open house: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 21. Attendees are asked to bring nonperishable holiday foods.

• Regular hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.

 Where: 906 Harney St., Vancouver.

 Information: 360-695-4903,

Top Clark County pantries by pounds of food distributed

 St. Vincent de Paul Vancouver conference: 802,478.

 FISH of Orchards: 668,584.

 FISH of Vancouver: 591,872.

 Clark County Adventist Community Services: 486,728.

Inter-Faith Treasure House: 427,651.

Top Clark County pantries by households served

 FISH of Vancouver: 24,815.

 St. Vincent de Paul Vancouver conference: 21,328.

 FISH of Orchards: 17,492.

 Clark County Adventist Community Services: 13,315.

 Salvation Army: 9,571.

Source: Clark County Food Bank annual report, July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015

Volunteers were busy on Monday filling shelves and sorting food at the FISH Westside Food Pantry of Vancouver’s new location in downtown Vancouver. The 6,000-square-foot warehouse that opened Tuesday is a significant upgrade from the food pantry’s former space at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

“This has been my dream for many years to have our own building,” said George Kaufer, president of FISH.

Using a $1 million state grant and private donations, the all-volunteer food pantry was able to purchase and renovate 906 Harney St. The pantry closed for a few days to move all of the food and furniture to the new space. For the first time in about 45 years, FISH has a parking lot and a walk-in fridge and freezer, currently stocked with Thanksgiving turkeys.

The extra storage makes all the difference because the number of people seeking assistance at FISH keeps growing, Kaufer said. The food pantry was small and had about 30 volunteers until the economic recession hit. That’s when demand, donations and the number of volunteers all grew.

“We got so many more people needing help,” Kaufer said. “A lot of folks still are hurting.”

In 2014, the food pantry gave out 789,558 pounds of food to 65,383 people. Compare that to a clientele of about 47,000 in 2010. The latest statistics compiled by the Clark County Food Bank state that FISH serves more households than any other pantry in the county. Clients are dealing not just with homelessness, but also underemployment and high housing costs. So, unfortunately, Kaufer said, FISH’s services are needed now more than ever as evident by the line of people that show up to the pantry before it opens at 10 a.m. each weekday.

“Everybody has a story,” Kaufer said. “Everybody has a reason why they have to use it, and they’re all valid. We never turn anybody away.”

FISH did, however, have to turn away some donations at the old 1,500-square-foot space at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Perishable food was stored in a handful of household refrigerators.

With the new space, FISH can comfortably accommodate all of the food that volunteers can round up from local grocers. The pantry looks to give clients more pounds of food than it has in the past.

“They should have the ability to do that because of the storage situation,” said volunteer Katlin Smith.

There’s space for donated clothing, as well — something FISH had to do away with at St. Paul given the premium on storage space for food. People can also pick up a healthy snack if they need something to get them through the day.

In the next several years, FISH will pay off the mortgage on the building while getting rent from Fastenal, a construction supply company that continues to lease the other half of the building.

FISH is the only food pantry open during weekdays on the west side of Vancouver, serving a growing number of low-income and homeless people.

The work attracts longtime volunteers, some of whom have been with FISH for decades. In the past year, the food pantry accrued about 20,000 volunteer hours, more than any other pantry in Clark County. Volunteer Marnie Wright has been at FISH for at least 23 years (she’s lost track).

“I guess it’s a habit,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing a little bit of good here.”