The holidays are here and for many people this means tables brimming with roast turkey, savory stuffing and creamy mashed potatoes, along with an abundance of pies, cookies and holiday sweets. But for about 1,000 local families there is no bounty during the holidays. The winter months bring an annual struggle to get enough food. Woodburn AWARE Food Bank helps fill this gap by providing more than 32,000 pounds of food each month to people in need.
The waiting room of Woodburn AWARE Food Bank buzzed with people picking up food boxes on a recent weekday morning. According to director Wilbur Kauffman, demand is up and donations are down slightly.
In the wintertime, our demand goes up 10 to 20 percent, he said. This is primarily due to clients either being out of work or working shorter hours. At the same time, our food donations fall a little bit when we stop getting the produce that we get during the summertime.
Staffed by a rotating crew of more than 50 volunteers, the food bank more than tripled its square footage when it moved into a 7,000 square foot building downtown last January. Most volunteers work one day per week and include a wide variety of people, from high school seniors to senior citizens.
Because we pick up bread from the grocery stores, we have volunteers working seven days a week, Kauffman said. The food bank relies heavily on the volunteers to keep the organization running. Kauffman is the sole staff member organizing his team of volunteers who keep in constant motion unloading and organizing pallets of food, stocking shelves and helping clients.
Local schools also do a good job of supporting the food bank, Kauffman said. Many of the food bank volunteers are seniors from Woodburn High School. Beyond providing volunteers, local schools also help out by holding food drives during the year.
According to statistics gathered by the Marion-Polk Food Share, a regional food bank which owns AWAREs building and charges just $1 a year, more than 18,500 households in the Woodburn area received an emergency food box between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013.
Much of the donated food landing on the food bank shelves comes through a partnership with the Oregon Food Bank Network and the Marion-Polk Food Share. In addition to that, Kauffman said they receive substantial donations from local grocery stores, churches and individuals. Locally, the food bank averages 32,000 pounds of donated food each month in addition to what it receives from the Oregon Food Bank Network. Another source of locally donated food comes from semi-truck drivers with leftover or refused food still on their truck after delivery. Kauffman said the drivers call the food bank when there is unexpected food left in their vehicles. These spur-of-the-moment donations have resulted in pallets of everything from meat to peppers to papayas.
A lot of times we get food thats been pulled, Kauffman said about grocery store donations. When grocery store items are close to or at their expiration date, stores will donate it to the food bank.
One local church keeps the food bank stocked with pinto beans. Kauffman said pinto beans and rice are two of the best foods to give people.
The food bank serves approximately 3,400 people each month, including about 1,600 children.
Although the economy has improved over the past year, Kauffman said food bank demand has remained steady. Donations, however, have dipped slightly.
Money donations we take from anybody, in any quantity, Kauffman said. Sometimes I get quarters and dollars. But also we get bigger donations from corporations, churches and individuals.
Anyone interested in donating money or food to the food bank can do so during business hours, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, at 152 Arthur St.