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News / Clark County News

‘A little bit of hope’ on wheels: FISH mobile food pantry has seen need grow in Vancouver

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: July 14, 2023, 6:40pm
5 Photos
Aaron Claridge, a first-time volunteer with FISH, passes a bag of nonperishable foods to Kathy Evans of Vancouver during a mobile food pantry distribution event at Columbia House apartments in Uptown Village on Friday. "This is very, very handy," said Evans, who lives in an adjacent apartment complex.
Aaron Claridge, a first-time volunteer with FISH, passes a bag of nonperishable foods to Kathy Evans of Vancouver during a mobile food pantry distribution event at Columbia House apartments in Uptown Village on Friday. "This is very, very handy," said Evans, who lives in an adjacent apartment complex. (ELAYNA YUSSEN for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A line of people, many holding onto walkers and foldable shopping carts, waited outside the senior low-income apartment building Columbia House on Friday for fresh produce, beans, meat and other food from a truck.

The lines are a common sight for the community lately, with FISH’s mobile food pantry going to a different location every Friday to bring food to people who might not be able to travel to the pantry’s main location at 906 Harney St. in Vancouver.

“We realized that there are areas that have transportation issues, especially lower-income senior centers. A lot of these people that are here today don’t drive,” said James Fitzgerald, executive director of FISH, or Friends in Service to Humanity.

The mobile pantry comes to low-income apartment complexes, senior centers and health clinics. As of June, it has been operating for a year, although it doesn’t operate from about November through February.

You Can Help

FISH accepts donations at its website: fishvancouver.org/give.

Get help

Learn more about FISH’s assistance programs at fishvancouver.org/get-help.

Each time the truck returns to a site, the mobile pantry tends to attract more people than the last time, Fitzgerald said. The numbers have grown from about 60 to 75 to 90 people served each trip, he said.

Fitzgerald said the long lines for food are due to rising costs of housing and food as well as the end of a pandemic-era program that increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps.

The boost in benefits was meant to support people through a time of high unemployment and school closures. But after it ended in March, the average person received about $90 less a month in SNAP benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Since those benefits went back to pre-pandemic levels in March, Columbia House resident Jerrol Stanley said, he’s been getting food from the mobile pantry to make his SNAP benefits last through the month.

He said the rising cost of food has been a challenge for him. Food prices at grocery stores increased by 11.4 percent in 2022, according to the Department of Agriculture.

“It’s crazy, because they never raise our food stamps but they sure raise the prices,” Stanley said.

Another resident in line for food, Jeannie Iverson, said she’s dealing with the same issue. “It’s just so hard,” she said. “The food is so expensive now.”

The mobile food pantry has filled a gap for the residents since a local church stopped coming to distribute food after the pandemic started. With the food she gets, Iverson will cook meals for some of the other residents in her building.

Both Stanley and Iverson have trouble getting to stores to buy food. Stanley has narcolepsy, and Iverson said she can’t walk far or stand for a long time.

“We like to think that we help people that can’t get to us, and we like to think we help prevent homelessness and sadness in a way,” said Beth Lee, board member and coordinator of the mobile pantry. “If we can take $30 off their groceries, maybe that’s what they need.”

Over the last year, FISH communications manager Cassie Ruud has seen the program grow to be even more accessible by providing printouts in various languages. She said she had just come back from helping a man who spoke only Korean.

Fitzgerald said he hopes that the mobile pantry can expand its locations and go out two to three times a week instead of just on Fridays, but the pantry needs more operational funds before it can grow further. With long lines and more people interested in the truck coming to their locations, he sees a need for the mobile pantry in the community.

“We’re not solving all the problems that they have, but we’re giving them a little boost and brightening their day,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re bringing them a little bit of hope.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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