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Sunshine Pantry 26 years old and growing

Family operation provides food and loving support to neighbors in need

Sharon Straus is a woman with a big heart and an even bigger mission.

'My biggest concern is that no child should go to bed hungry, and that's what I work for,' the 57-year-old Hyland Hills neighbor said. 'My goal is to make children feel secure and help their families put food on the table.'

For the past 26 years, Straus and her family have opened both their hearts and home to neighbors in need by establishing the Sunshine Pantry.

'It started as a Cub Scout project,' Straus said. 'In the beginning we adopted six families at Christmas time and provided them with food, toys, hygiene products and gifts.

'That project got me thinking - these families are probably hungry during spring break and hungry all summer because the kids are home. The need exists year-round. Our project grew from there.'

The family opened the Sunshine Pantry and operated it out of their home for 25 years.

'I started with one aisle in the garage, then went to two, then half the garage, then spread to the side yard off the garage,' Straus said. 'Families found us.

'There got to be so many families coming into my neighborhood that the city told us we had to move the pantry.'

Earlier this year, the nonprofit food pantry opened up shop in a commercial space in the Parkside Business Center, 7795 S.W. Cirrus Drive.

'We have more than 300 families coming here for food, and we're praying every day that we have enough for everybody when they visit us once a week,' Straus said. 'We work very hard in getting nutritious food like fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. I want our families to have good, healthy food.'

Over the years, the pantry has developed dependable community partnerships with businesses like Trader Joe's, Albertsons, Uwajimaya, Zupan's Markets, Buster's Texas Style Barbecue and New Seasons Market to keep the pantry's shelves, fridges and freezers stocked with groceries. Community groups, Beaverton schools, churches and private donations from concerned residents also help with donations.

'We're all working together to make sure we feed Beaverton,' Straus said. 'We take anything from food to housewares, clothing and hygiene items.

'We have so many families that someone will need them.'

Knowing that the Sunshine Pantry helps lighten the load of families struggling to make ends meet means a great deal to Straus and her team of volunteers.

'I just love my pantry,' Straus said. 'The best part is a stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet.

'This is an extension of my home, and anybody who helps the pantry is a member of the family. Everybody gets a hug when they walk in.'

Families who visit the pantry are not asked questions, she said. They are treated with respect and care.

'When you come - now this is important - the only thing I ask people to bring is a smile,' Straus said. 'I hear so many horrible stories that these families are going through.

'The people who come here are your neighbors next door. They are just one paycheck from having a problem. If I can just take that one problem away from them and make sure that they have food on the table for their children, then I feel like I've done my job.'

Her dedication to helping others through difficult times inspires others.

'It's all about the service we're providing,' said Lois Acuff, who has volunteered at the pantry for a couple years. 'We have people coming in who are literally living in their cars.

'They need to have some hope and that is what we're providing here. We are giving people a hand up.'

For Linda Johnson and Terri Averette, who both turned to the pantry when their families were dealing with tough times, Straus and the Sunshine Pantry were an answer to their prayers.

'Sharon's a huge blessing,' Averette said. 'She is an amazing individual with a huge heart.

'We need more people like her. Her family works so hard on this together. Coming to the pantry has been a huge help to my family and my kids. Food stamps only go so far. By coming here, I'm able to have money to pay for my important bills and have food for my family.'

Averette, a Hyland Hills mother with three children ages 11, 9 and 6, volunteers in the pantry three times a week.

'I love to help out and bring my kids,' she said. 'It's something I can feel good about. I know I'm helping other people.'

For more information about the Sunshine Pantry, call Sharon Straus at 503-646-6856.

The pantry is in the process of putting together food, presents, warm clothing and toys for families this holiday season. Any donations are welcome.