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Sixth annual food drive for SnowCap runs through Jan. 8



OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Volunteers in this panorama, taken at Gresham Ford on Nov. 5, bundle bags in preparation for the sixth-annual Fill-a-Bag food drive to benefit SnowCap Community Charities.

Every Thursday morning for the last six years, Doug Medler has gone grocery shopping.

But not because his cupboards are empty.

Medler is a “personal shopper” of sorts for clients at SnowCap Community Charities. He accompanies his customers around the agency’s warehouse, helping them fill bags with enough fresh and nonperishable foods for a week of healthy meals. Medler also dispenses a unique brand of customer service to those who aren’t often on the receiving end of kindness.

“When you and I go to the grocery store, we pick out what we want,” Medler said. “I help people do that here. I will take their groceries to the car if they need that help. I try to approach clients that, for whatever reason they’re here, I’m here to help them.”

To most of us, an empty cupboard or pantry shelf is a signal to hit the grocery store. But for the nearly 10,000 people served by SnowCap each month, running to the store is not an option.

So for the sixth year, local businesses and volunteers have joined forces to help SnowCap feed the hungry in our own community and neighborhoods through the Fill-a-Bag food drive.

Participants are encouraged to either fill the brown bag inserted into The Outlook newspaper with non-perishable goods or use the envelope attached to the bag to send in a cash donation. Additional bags can be picked up at most collection sites, like Gresham Ford, Riverview Community Bank and others.

Financial contributions are used by SnowCap to purchase food at a reduced rate through the Oregon Food Bank.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - SnowCap volunteer and past board president Jim Liefeld works in SnowCaps warehouse, stocking shelves with canned food donations. Keeping shelves stocked with food is a challenge for any grocery store, but more so for SnowCap, which receives no government funding to help the hungry in our community.

The food drive is a huge step toward restocking SnowCap’s shelves, but even the smallest financial contribution can carry the agency through leaner times when food donations aren’t as dependable.

Bess Wills, co-coordinator of the Fill-a-Bag campaign, said folks are more apt to fill a grocery bag with nonperishables because they don’t think small financial donations make an impact.

Given SnowCap’s buying power at the Oregon Food Bank, $1 bills are as valuable as bigger bills.

“Every nickel we raise helps somebody in our community,” Wills said. “Two dollars and fifty cents will buy 50 pounds of food. The average food box contains 50 pounds of food and will feed a family of four for a week. Where else would you make a donation that impacts a family of four for a week?”

Last year’s Fill-a-Bag campaign yielded 500,000 pounds of food for the agency. It was a huge boost in SnowCap’s efforts in the fight against local hunger. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Last years Fill-a-Bag food drive netted 500,000 pounds of food for local families. Kirsten Wageman, program and development director for SnowCap Community Charities, says that support for the campaign has allowed the agency to increase client visits to the pantry to 12 a year.

“We were only able to allow clients six visits a year,” said Kirsten Wageman, program and development director for SnowCap. “But after last year’s Fill-a-Bag, we were able to offer them 12 visits a year. That’s why Fill-a-Bag is so important. There are so many people who are just one crisis away from being hungry.”

The faces of hunger in East Multnomah County come from all walks of life, Wageman said. While less than 10 percent of SnowCap’s clients are homeless, the agency no longer serves primarily single women with small children.

“We see people who are working one job or two jobs, disabled people who want to work but can’t, grandmothers who didn’t expect to be raising their grandchildren,” Wageman explained. “Clients are so unique and there are so many reasons why they end up here.”

And many of those who turn to SnowCap, Wills noted, face tough financial decisions.

“These food boxes help senior citizens make the choice between buying groceries and paying a utility bill,” Wills said. “SnowCap really fills a void so life can go on for people.”

Medler, 70, says he has always found spare time to give agencies and organizations who help others in the community. Retired from the banking industry, he and his wife, Nancy, live in East Multnomah County and knew little of SnowCap’s mission when they signed on as volunteers.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Longtime SnowCap volunteer Doug Medler shops with clients in SnowCaps warehouse, even taking their groceries to the car if they need help.  “When I first started coming here, I wasn’t really aware of the need for what SnowCap does for the community,” Medler said. “Even though we serve way more people now than when I started, I was totally unaware of how many people were in need.”

On any given day of the week, the tiny lobby in SnowCap’s building at 17805 S.E. Stark St., in Gresham, is a hub of activity steered largely by nearly 1,000 volunteers like Medler and his wife. They provide intake services for new clients, resources to help with self-sufficiency and alleviate the worry of an empty cupboard. But volunteers, Medler said, often receive more than the clients they serve.

“I love the families,” he said. “I try to get the warehouse people to save lollipops for me so I can give them to the little kids. I get a lot of joy being here. It’s very rewarding.”

The Fill-a-Bag food drive continues through Friday, Jan. 8. You can donate nonperishable items by simply filling the brown paper bag and bringing your donation to one of the collection sites listed below. Cash donations can be sent via the envelope attached to the bag. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Donna Rest attaches a donation envelope to a Fill-a-Bag, during a volunteer effort for SnowCap held at Gresham Ford, while Sandra Miller prepares another.

Remember: SnowCap can purchase 20 pounds of food for $1. Along with canned goods and packaged foods, SnowCap is always in need of baby food and baby formula.

Collection barrels can be found at several local businesses including:

Riverview Community Bank, 225 E. Burnside Road, Gresham

Gresham Ford, 1999 E. Powell Blvd.

The Outlook, 1190 N.E. Division St., Gresham

Stamp Connection, 109 N.E. Roberts Ave., Gresham

• US World Class Taekwondo:

2443 S.W. Cherry Park Road, Troutdale

2332 E. Powell Blvd., Gresham

1507 N.E. 181st Ave., Gresham

36655 Highway 26, Sandy

Grocery Outlet, 2925 N.W. Division St., Gresham

Additional drop-off locations can be found online at snowcap.org/fill-a-bag. For more information on the Fill-a-Bag food drive, contact Larry Schwartz at Riverview Community Bank, 503-912-5400.

Attend the Christmas tree lighting

Planning to attend Gresham’s 24th-annual Spirit of Christmas tree lighting event downtown on Saturday, Nov. 28. The city of Gresham is inviting residents to bring their Fill-a-Bag donations to the festivities and deposit them in collection barrels at the Gresham Center for the Arts Plaza, 488 N.E. Third St.

Last year, the city collected coats and blankets for SnowCap. Supporting the Fill-a-Bag campaign blends well with the Spirit of Christmas (giving), according to Elizabeth Coffey, communications manager for the city of Gresham.

“This is a real natural fit,” Coffey said. “We’re happy to suppose those families in need.”

The Spirit of Christmas marks the official opening of the city’s holiday season. The family-friendly program includes music, photos with Santa, refreshments and culminates with the illumination of a 60-foot ponderosa pine in the Arts Plaza. The event kicks off at 5 p.m.

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