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Founder seeks more volunteers at new Fifth Street warehouse

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sunshine Pantry Founder and Director Sharon Straus moved the food pantry recently to 10895 S.W. Fifth St. in Beaverton.When determining who’s entitled to pick up donated food at the Sunshine Pantry, Sharon Straus keeps the rules firm, but simple.

“There are two things: You need to bring a box, and you need to bring a smile,” she says. “Those are the goals here for getting food.”

For those having trouble feeding their families or otherwise making ends meet, it’s hard to imagine a more compassionate and determined advocate than Straus. Since 1982, when she started Sunshine Pantry out of her Beaverton house, Straus has made it her mission to provide food, clothing, housewares, toys, toiletries and other essential amenities to those in need in and around the Beaverton area.

After years of being housed in four different buildings on Southwest Cirrus Drive, the Pantry moved two months ago into a larger, 10,000-square-foot warehouse closer to Central Beaverton at 10895 S.W. Fifth St.

With the Thanksgiving holiday rush in full swing, a chunk of the cavernous new space is abuzz with volunteers and forklifts managing the in-and-out flow of items stacked on shelves and in refrigerators along with bins of donated canned goods, bread, produce, turkeys, hams and other foodstuffs.

Given Straus’ serene demeanor as she engages with visitors from her desk on a late Saturday morning amid the barely contained chaos at the new pantry space, it would appear she has her holiday-mode giving machine running as well as could be expected.

“It’s a good chaos,” she observes. “It gets a lot of things done.”

In Straus’ world, however, there’s always room for improvement: more volunteers, more donations and more projects, such as building a cooler and freezer to better accommodate perishables during high-volume periods like the holidays.

“Now that we are here in a bigger building, we need help from more people,” she says. “We need donations. We need help from volunteers. Anything anyone could do to help make this a better operation to help more families in crisis.”

Crediting her right-hand man Jared Mannis, director of operations, with making the move happen, Straus says it will still be awhile before there’s a true sense of order at the relocated operation.

“Jerod took a year to move us. We’ve got another six months to a year to be settled in,” she says. by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Frozen turkeys sit in a bin for people to pick-up at the recently re-located Sunshine Pantry in Beaverton.

Mother of giving

Closed on Thanksgiving Day, the pantry — which serves between 250 and 350 individuals or up to 75 families a day — was up and running through Wednesday. It will be back in business on Friday to resume its roughly regular hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as by special request. The days leading up to Thanksgiving and the stretch between the pilgrims’ holiday and the new year tend to be the pantry’s peak operation times.

Involvement with a canned food drive project for her oldest son’s Cub Scout pack inspired Straus, 64, to think more about the larger community’s needs. Winding up in charge of the project, Straus stored cans in her garage until supplies accumulated to donate to six needy Washington County families at Christmas. Reminded of how many people in the area go hungry, both in and out of the holiday season, Straus decided to try to make a difference.

“I was involved in everything,” she says of her prior life as full-time mom to four children. “Sports, PTA, a homeroom mother, youth groups. It has just evolved.”

With Mannis doing much of the shelter’s heavy lifting, Straus gets most of her food from daily trips to local stores that donate excess goods, as well as from Fork It Over, a food donation program sponsored by Metro regional government.

She credits Albertsons, the first grocery store to provide steady donations, along with Safeway, New Seasons Market, Whole Foods and the Walmart Neighborhood Market, which opened last winter on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, with providing a steady flow of its surplus food and groceries for the pantry.

“My motto is no child should go to bed hungry,” she says of her early motivation. “At that time, when I saw the need, I would walk or drive to the different stores. Some of them didn’t know about giving.”

Helping hands

Nick McKimmy, 34, past master of Beaverton Masonic Lodge No. 100, has lent his time and efforts to Sunshine Pantry for the past two years. He believes Straus’ creation fills a gap that many don’t realize exists in the community.

“Working here last year really opened my eyes,” he says. “I didn’t realize how many people who may not qualify for other programs, they can come here and get what they need. Here, you don’t have to jump through hoops to get help.”

Garry Weiner, a fellow Masonic Lodge past master, says the pantry provides a perfect opportunity for Masons to give something of themselves to others.

“I like interacting with the people while making a contribution to the community,” he says. “We appreciate the community spirit and involvement.”

Straus, who looks forward to getting the 18-foot by 26-foot freezer built and running, says it amazes her how long she and her loyal supporters have kept the mission alive and humming.

“If you had said to me in 1984 that (30 years) later you’ll be in a 10,000-square-foot building serving 50 to 75 family units a day, I would’ve thought you were telling me a real story,” she says. “Because I’m a mom. That’s all I am.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Joseph Weiner, 10, helps his father, Garry, unload food donated to the Sunshine Pantry.

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