Food bank running short of supplies


by: Photo By Susan Matheny - Food Bank Director Brenda Curnutt fills a box on Tuesday.

   The Jefferson County Food Bank is seeing more families than ever who are requesting food boxes this winter, according to directors John and Brenda Curnutt.
   "Six months ago we were serving between 168 to 220 families per month, but in November we served 280 families, which is an average of 56 families per week," Brenda Curnutt reported, noting many farm workers are unemployed during winter months.
   The food bank, located inside the Seventh-Day Adventist Community Services building at 346 S.W. Culver Highway, is only open one day a week, Tuesday, from 1:30 to 5 p.m., and last week a long line of people of all ages, some without coats, were waiting in the chilly wind for the doors to open.
   "We had 60 families Dec. 7, which is kind of a scary indication, since the first two weeks of the month are usually the slowest. We ran out of food by the end of the day," Curnutt said at the end of that Tuesday.
   This December, the food bank will also be filling 30 Christmas baskets for families, who are not all recipients of the monthly food boxes.
   The food bank helps hungry Jefferson County residents through several programs:
   . The USDA food commodities program provides staples like beans, rice, peanut butter, and macaroni. But with all the Oregon food pantries experiencing a rise in requests, the commodities are being stretched thin as they are divided among the pantries. Each center must pay freight costs on commodity food shipments.
   To receive USDA commodities, people must be screened and must meet the U.S. poverty guidelines.
   . The Oregon Food Bank delivers food once a month to Central Oregon Community Action Agency Network (COCAAN) in Bend to go to Central Oregon food banks.
   "When we go get food, we get very little, so we depend on local contributions (to make up the difference)," Curnutt said.
   . Local food drives and money contributions help the food bank purchase and fill the gaps of food not received from the other programs.
   Local contributions are also used to provide food to people who do not meet federal poverty guidelines and thus cannot receive USDA commodities.
   "They may have had a job, but now are unemployed," Curnutt said as an example.
   She has noticed quite a few senior citizens and disabled people this year, along with other people in need.
   "I had a guy yesterday who was living out of a car. I gave him a blanket and pillow. He had no cooking facilities, but said he had a can opener and could eat a can of tuna or stew cold," Curnutt said.
   Contributions currently needed by the food bank include fruit (always in short supply), vegetables, soups, stews, macaroni and cheese, and tuna. Curnutt said they have freezer space if anyone wants to donate something like half-a beef, and it will be packaged in smaller portions to give away.
   Curnutt mentioned cash contributions from United Way, and Crestview Cable TV's annual campaign, help the food bank throughout the year.
   . The Food Recovery Program, which began just six weeks ago, helps provide some produce and meat for families from stores that donate outdated food items.
   Curnutt said Erickson's Sentry Market and the Safeway Store in Madras have been very generous, and Fred Meyer Stores and others provide things like packaged lettuce and frozen meat.
   The food bank pays 14 cents a pound for meat from the Food Recovery Program. "We've been getting 125 to 150 pounds of meat a week and give it all out each week," she said.
   The rest is all cooler items including apples, carrots, potatoes, milk, yogurt, and eggs.
   "It depends on what the stores have left over and it's first come, first serve. Last week we picked up 15 dozen eggs and cut them in half, so 30 families got six eggs, Curnutt said.
   Free clothing
   In addition to the food bank, Community Services operates a used clothing section, where clothing is given away for free. The clothing center no longer has volunteers to mend or launder items, so it is only accepting clean clothing in good repair. Coats, and blankets are currently needed.
   Anyone interested in helping the food bank may send donations by check to the Jefferson County Food Bank, in care of 1115 N.E. Clark Drive, Madras, OR 97741, or drop donations by the center on Tuesdays from 1:30 to 5 p.m.
   On other days of the week during December, canned or dried food donations may be dropped off at the county clerk's or county commissioner's office at the courthouse annex on D Street.
   For more information contact the food bank at 475-3105. Curnutt reminded donors that the need for food isn't only during the holidays, but continues through February or March, until seasonal employment picks back up.