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Action Center shifts focus to food-based mission

n Some are upset about recent changes n Center says it remains committed to serving the most vulnerable


The Sandy Community Action Center has been making changes, and not everyone is happy about them.

The Action Center in essence is a food pantry that serves people in the Oregon Trail School District.

In December, the Action Center board hired Karlene McCabe as interim director. She’s part of the Executive Transition Services program at the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and works with organizations undergoing transitions and growth.

Board Chairwoman Kate Holleran said that after working with the Action Center for a while, McCabe pitched a need to focus on food.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Nathan and Denise come in once a week to volunteer at the Action Center. Nathan loves kids, so the two of them assemble snack bags for families that come in with kids.

“We serve the most vulnerable people in our community from Boring to Government Camp,” she said. “It’s really important work.”

The food pantry was expanded from 15 percent of the facility’s square footage to 30 percent. To do this, the center downsized its secondhand store.

Dena Isbell, the center's client services coordinater and volunteer manager, said the change was necessary to improve the safety and efficiency of clients’ experience at the food pantry.

Previously, the food pantry was confined to the center’s equivalent of a storage closet. Now that the pantry is expanded, and there is sufficient room to shop, the center is Americans with Disabilities certified.

Everyday operations

Dena said there are three ways the center provides food to families and individuals in need:

n Monthly food boxes, given free to clients every 30 days.

n "Community baskets," pre-packed boxes that cost $1.50 and are distributed once a month, each holding about 40 pounds of food.

n Senior baskets, also distributed once a month to a preapproved group of 50 seniors.

When clients come in to get their monthly food boxes, they shop for it themselves.

First, clients must provide proof of residency in the Oregon Trail School District, but that is all, Isbell said. They are not asked for ID, or proof of income within certain parameters.

Next, clients enter the self-shop pantry. The food is sorted into categories — canned vegetables and fruits, protein, grains, snacks, dairy, beverages, frozen meat and veggies, and fresh produce — and each shelf has a sign depicting the number of items that can be selected in that category depending on household size. A family of two usually receives one or two items per shelf.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - On a busy Friday toward the end of June, the Action Centers shelves are looking a little bare. They are restocked as soon as possible.

One shelf carries household items such as shampoo, toothpaste, diapers and toilet paper. Clients are allowed one item, and Isbell said it is almost assured that they will take the toilet paper.

Isbell said the expansion of the pantry’s space has made all the difference. Instead of having a couple of people cram into a small space, Isbell said the pantry can accommodate about three clients moving through at a time. Nobody waits more than 15 minutes.

The monthly food box program sends out about 250 boxes of food a month, which Isbell said can feed 650 individuals.

Controversial decision

Holleran has been chairing the board for three years. She said that when the center was set up, it was meant to be a food pantry, but over the years, it shifted its focus to the thrift store.

When McCabe began at the center, she determined that the board needed to step back and focus on the pantry.

“It was like a lightbulb,” Holleran said.

Holleran said although the board sees the change as positive, that has not been the response from everyone. She said some previous volunteers adamantly disagree with the decision and want things to continue the way they were.

“We can’t go back,” Holleran said. “We have to move forward.”

The Action Center board held an open meeting Tuesday, June 17. Nearly 30 people showed up to listen and get their concerns heard. Among them was Fred Proett.

Proett was on the board way before McCabe was hired. He decided to leave when he felt his voice wasn’t being heard. He said he lost a lot of sleep following the meeting.

Although he said each volunteer present at the meeting had a different reason for being there, downgrading the thrift store was a concern for him.by: POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - One volunteer is working to paint the Action Centers front windows to make them more inviting and express its mission centering on food.

“They’ve diminished the importance of the store, and increased the liability on donations,” Proett said. “The store is no longer a viable revenue source.”

He felt that the 10 minutes allotted for public concern was not enough to accommodate the number of concerned individuals who showed up.

“I was disappointed,” he said. “They mounted a blockade between themselves and us.”

Proett said as of now, he doesn’t see a solution for resolving the disagreements. But both sides of the controversy agree that further bickering only hurts the community receiving resources from the food bank.

Community partners

At the June 17 board meeting, Isbell presented the Oregon Food Bank’s Innovation Spotlight Award, awarded to the center.

The award specifically highlighted the work the Action Center has done with AntFarm, the local nonprofit group serving youths.

Isbell recalled that last year, AntFarm asked the center's director at the time if the center could use some extra produce. Of course, the director said yes.

Isbell reported that in July 2013, the center received 100 pounds of fresh produce from the AntFarm Community Garden. AntFarm gave 600 pounds of produce in August, 1,425 pounds in September and 570 pounds in October.

This year, another of the Action Center’s partners, Fred Meyer, donated a large number of seed packets. Instead of attempting to sell the seeds, Sandy Action Center passed them on to AntFarm to be planted in the garden, hoping it would improve the garden’s yield and the amount of food the center's customers receive.

Although the partnership with AntFarm has been recognized as a success, Holleran wishes to see it grow more in the future.

The board decided at June’s meeting to form a hiring committee to appoint a new director since McCabe is contracted only through September.