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Tualatin food pantry: Homeless?

The school district plans to sell the building the pantry uses
by: Jaime Valdez, FUTURE UNKNOWN — Evan Peick, 14 (left) Tyler Hanash, 12, and Spencer Mohalt, 14, stock the shelves at the Tualatin School House Food Pantry Tuesday afternoon. Even as the possibility of relocating looms in the near future, pantry volunteers are busy with trying to meet the community’s demand for food.

TUALATIN - The Tualatin School House Food Pantry will likely be homeless by the end of the summer. It's a fact Linda Moholt, volunteer coordinator for the pantry, has come to accept.

'I have this feeling in my heart that we will get this call that we have a month to move,' Moholt said.

But even with the certainty of moving, the pantry has not packed one box. Moholt sits at her crowded tabletop desk space and sighs. The pantry staff knows it will have to move, but it has no plans. It has no place to go.

And even as that reality settles in, Moholt sits up straight as a man who was just seen at the Northwest Medical Team's dental van steps into the room. He needs help.

With a broad smile on her face, she directs him to the Tualatin Resource Center upstairs.

She then turns back to the interview and smiles again. Even as the pantry faces its own crisis, Moholt and the rest of the pantry volunteers know that the crises faced by Tualatin residents everyday is something that can't be put on hold while they try to find a solution to their own homeless issue.

About 15 percent of the people the pantry serves are senior citizens, people who cannot afford food because of the rising cost in healthcare. A smaller percentage is homeless. Moholt said that the pantry site serves between 30 and 40 homeless people a week.

But, according to Moholt, about 75 percent of the pantry's clients are working-class families.

'Most people who live in (Tualatin) think the city is just a well-to-do suburb,' said Wes Taylor, pastor at Tualatin United Methodist Church. 'The reality is that between 12 and 14 percent of the community are at risk of going hungry.'

The Tualatin pantry provides food to about 300 families a month. The primary mission is to provide each family with a week's worth of groceries. The mission has grown and expanded with programs like the Northwest Medical Team's dental van and free back-to-school haircuts.

'The first week, we served 50 families, and we thought we were doing great,' Taylor said.

But even with 300 families served a month, Moholt believes that the number of families in need may be double or even triple the amount served now.

'We've been here one and a half years, and people are still just learning we're here,' Moholt noted as she sat at her cramped desk space.

She expects a call at any time from the Tigard-Tualatin School District telling pantry volunteers that they need to leave.

The district is moving forward with plans to market the building and its surrounding land to interested developers. The pantry has no plans for where to relocate.

'We are assuming that in six months we may have to be some place else,' said pantry co-director Mike Shiffer. 'We don't have any immediate plans, but we know we'll figure something out.'

Shiffer's optimism is likely more determinism as he acknowledges that just because the pantry may move or have difficulty operating, the need for its services will not disappear.

'We can't ignore the need to find a solution,' he added.

Recently, the pantry accepted its largest money donation from Grace Community Church in the amount of $10,000.

Smiling broadly, Moholt said the money would be used to fund dental van visits for one year. Each visit costs $300.

The pantry will also purchase several industrial refrigerators to store products like milk and eggs delivered from the Oregon Food Bank.

Moholt is excited about the upcoming purchase, but she's also apprehensive. Just where does the pantry expect to put those new refrigerators once the notice to move comes down?

The worry is real, but so is the current need for services. Moholt nods her head acknowledging that the pantry has no plans on where to go from here.

City officials and community leaders are brainstorming for a possible solution. Moholt and Shiffer say they keep their ears and their eyes open for any possible sites.

Yet even as they worry about the pantry's future, they also have to worry about the present - the day-to-day activities and needs at the pantry.