The gym at St. John Lutheran Church in north Hazel Dell turned into a pop-up food stand Friday afternoon for the Clark County Food Bank’s first Food Bank Fresh of the season. It’s a program where farmers market-style food stands are set up in spots around the county that don’t have nearby, easily accessible food pantries.
On Friday, volunteers set up bins filled with onions, potatoes, zucchini, celery and cartons of broth — the fixings for a vegetable soup. There were also frozen green beans, breads, juices and hygiene products.
“When you have fresh food available people love it,” said James Fitzgerald, director of operations at the food bank. “People take fresh produce over other things.”
When the food bank gets a lot of produce at once, it needs to be quickly distributed. So, the thought behind Food Bank Fresh was to move that produce and help underserved communities at the same time.
The closest food bank from the north Hazel Dell area is SixEight Food Pantry; it’s about two miles away and can take 45 minutes to get to by bus. It’s open on Tuesday evenings.
Some people came to the stand from the mobile home community across the street. Others from Maple Knoll Apartments down Highway 99.
As an experiment the food bank held 14 Food Bank Fresh stands last summer, several of which were at St. John. Other food banks in the Oregon Food Bank network have tried similar programs, Fitzgerald said. Given last summer’s success, Fitzgerald aims to hold at least one food stand each week this year.
Food Bank Fresh may supplement the food that people regularly get at pantries.
Since the Clark County Food Bank doesn’t distribute food to clients at its warehouse off Northeast Minnehaha Street, Food Bank Fresh is an opportunity to be on the front line of what’s happening in the community and meet clients face-to-face, Fitzgerald said.
James Smith said he gets food from St. Vincent de Paul and Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Ridgefield. He likes that the Food Bank Fresh stands let people stock up on food, as opposed to getting a premade food box.
“Some of the other pantries give out food so sparingly,” said Smith, who pulled a trailer he filled with food. “I’ve got enough food for eight or nine meals.”
Smith, who lives across the street, said he was most excited to get potatoes and onions. His roommate, Mariane Trueblood, said that when you’ve got limited resources, using them to go to a food pantry only to get a couple days’ worth of food isn’t really worth it.
Church member Sue Replogle said she recently took a family of five into her home, so the supplemental groceries are “much appreciated.”
“I think it’s the best thing ever,” said Replogle, who planned to make stir-fried zucchini.
Nutritionists with the food bank were sampling Greek yogurt potato salad and handing out recipe cards, as well as signing people up for cooking classes at the food bank’s warehouse. The idea is that some clients who are used to primarily cooking with nonperishable or canned foods may not know how to use all of the ingredients.
Fliers on the produce boxes also offered people ideas for how to cook them.
In total, 56 families took home 1,658 pounds of food that will benefit 198 people. That’s about half of what the food bank typically saw last summer. Fitzgerald said that’s likely because it was the first stand of the season, held on a rainy day and it wasn’t as visible because it was in the church’s gym as opposed to the parking lot facing Highway 99.
Food insecurity increased nationally during the economic recession and hasn’t really gone down since then, according to United States Department of Agriculture data. Nonprofit Feeding America says that 14.1 percent of people were food insecure in Clark County, as of 2014. Nearly one in four children in Clark County are food insecure.