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On the edge of hunger

West Linn Food Drive provides staples for many local families
by: JIM HART, Volunteer Vickee Cosentino of West Linn checks expiration dates on canned food before weighing the donation.

'Mary' visits the West Linn Food Pantry every week because the cost of rent takes one-half of her $1,200 gross monthly income. After paying her other bills, there is never enough to buy food for the entire month.

This single woman is being called 'Mary' because she is uncomfortable going public about her financial problems, even though she knows anyone could find themselves in her place.

Anyone who is living from one paycheck to the next.

Mary had been working three part-time jobs, which began to involve unreimbursed travel costs. After changing to a close-in, full-time job at just above minimum wage, she had to move - which increased the cost of rent.

Even after budgeting and being very careful with her meager income, it became increasingly difficult to make the money last through the entire month.

'Eight years ago,' she told the Tidings, 'I would have had too much pride to ask for food. But with the way society is going and income not keeping up with high prices, I have changed my attitude.'

Mary thinks of the food pantry as a temporary measure, and hopes for better days when she will not need to worry about food.

'I don't want to (get food at the pantry) for a long time,' she said. 'I just got a little raise, and I may not have to do this pretty soon.'

Mary likes the West Linn Food Pantry because they pay attention to food allergies and, she says 'they're very warm and welcoming and they don't make you feel like you're lower class.'

Jennifer Loney, who founded the pantry with Shauna Shroyer 14 months ago, says she didn't realize there was so much need in an otherwise affluent city like West Linn.

'There is definitely hunger in West Linn,' Loney said. 'There are people who live from paycheck to paycheck, and struggle to do so.

'We have a lot of single-parent families that I would call the working poor. There also are those who would never dream that it would happen to them.'

And yet it does happen.

'All that happens is they get laid off,' Loney said, 'and then they're in a lot of trouble. It even happens to people whose hours are cut (thus reducing take-home pay). This food pantry makes a huge difference in their lives.'

March's month-long food drive 'West Linn Feeds The Hungry' is making a huge difference in the pantry's store of food for the spring and summer, Loney says, and she's hoping for a big final weekend of donations for the drive.

'The extra food that West Linn families are able to get (at the pantry),' Loney said, 'is what allows them to get through the month.'

The pantry, located in the Willamette United Methodist Church, is open every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Last Thursday, Loney greeted an elderly woman with a cane who comes to the pantry often in order to survive.

'She is single, disabled and retired and has a caregiver who stays with her,' Loney said after the woman left with her food allowance. 'This supplements her Social Security check and allows her to pay for heating and prescriptions. It really enables her to have food throughout the month.'

Most Thursdays are spiritually uplifting for Loney. She is joined by many volunteers who joyfully offer an emergency box of food once a month to West Linn families as well as a weekly allowance of bread and slightly outdated items.

'I learned from my parents,' she said, 'that if you can give back, you should give back as much as possible.'

Loney came from a volunteer family. It's in her blood. Describing the way she was raised, she says her parents still drive for Meals On Wheels.

She says volunteering to give food to the hungry is 'like second nature' to her.

But the day that Loney will never forget wasn't even about food. Last December, she and Shroyer decided to help these lower-income families experience Christmas with more than just the usual fare. In addition to food, they provided small gifts, including toys for kids.

'A woman came to us in tears and thanked us because it was the only presents that her kids were going to get. It meant so much to her to be able to give her kids something,' she said.

Loney really appreciates all of the volunteers who help open the doors of the pantry every Thursday. And new volunteers, she says, arrive often - especially when reminded of the need.

Rita Quinn and her husband, Dennis, are giving back to the community - even though they have never been on the receiving end. They volunteer regularly at the food pantry.

'I am very thankful for never having been in a position to need this type of help,' she said. 'I am volunteering here because I want to help.'

Martin Nixon, a member of the New Life Church in West Linn considers volunteering at the pantry part of his personal ministry, which also includes finding jobs and cars for people just released from prison and helping a local, disabled man recover from addictions.

Nixon also delivers food from the pantry to the man he is assisting through drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Nixon called the food pantry a 'recovery bridge' between a time of need and a time when the man won't be drinking or taking drugs, and his meager income will stretch to month's end.

'This man tells me: 'You're an angel. Tell those women (at the food pantry) that I love them. I don't know how I would have made it without (the food).' '

Looking back over the past year, and especially the past month, Nixon said local residents have really supported this ministry against hunger.

'The people of West Linn,' he said, 'have been very generous to the pantry.'

For more information on the food drive, visit the Web site at or call 503-699-9698. For information on the food pantry or to volunteer, contact Shroyer at 503-880-8140 or call the church at 503-656-9580.