In the community

Ontario food pantry confronts rising demand for services

Doug Dean, the manager of the Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida food pantry in Ontario talks about the growing need for food the pantry encountered since the first of the year. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – The Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida food pantry in Ontario is in the midst of a period of high demand after the number of individuals who need assistance began to climb in January.

“People used to just come in on Wednesdays but we are seeing them coming in every day now,” said Doug Dean, the manager of the pantry.

Dean said the facility at 180 W. Idaho Ave. usually distributes about 100 food boxes each month.

“Now we are up to 125 boxes a month. We are packing the boxes with more food. This year, so far, we have given out more volume of food than we gave out last year,” he said.

Last year, said Dean, food boxes averaged between 25 and 30 pounds of product.

“Now we are looking at 35 to 40 pounds on average,” said Dean.

A food box contains canned food, dry goods and frozen food per box.

The type of clients changed as well, said Dean.

“We are getting more families,” said Dean.

Dean said the pantry also serves retired veterans, and several Oregon National Guard families and “young mothers.”

Many of the younger clients are reluctant to ask for help, said Dean.

“These are regular people and there is that pride. They really feel bad about it and you can feel they don’t want to take it,” said Dean.

The pantry, said Dean, relies on food deliveries from the Oregon Food Bank and donations. The uptick in the need for services, though, means the pantry often runs short of food by the end of the month, he said.

“We always run out of perishables and we run out of ketchup and mustard,” said Dean.

Each food box typically contains pancake mix, cereal, diced tomatoes, cooking oil, prunes, quick dinners, dry beans, rice and mac-and-cheese.

Dean said the pantry “can always use more” food donations.

At the Vale Food Pantry, demand for food is also beginning to climb, said manager Connie Ussing.

“For a while we did not have as many people coming in. Then we started to get a bit more and now it is steadily rising,” said Ussing.

Ussing said in the past, the number of households served by the pantry dropped to as low as 40. Recently, though, she said the number climbed to 100 or more..

Ussing said pantry clients are a diverse group.

“There are families, the elderly. When we can, and it depends on volunteers, we really like to deliver to the elderly,” said Ussing.

Ussing said the Vale pantry – like the Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida food pantry – receives product from the Oregon Food Bank in Ontario and donations. A typical food box distributed from the Vale pantry includes canned beans, tomato sauce, flower, soups, canned vegetables, fruit, pastas, cereal, oatmeal, butter and “two or three pieces of meat,” said Ussing.

“Some food we have a lot of, such as pastas, tomato sauce and beans. We are getting less meat and less milk,” said Ussing.

In 2019, more than 4,000 people in Malheur County faced food insecurity – or a lack of a consistent access to enough food for an active health lifestyle – according to the non-profit Feeding America organization.

Ussing said the need for food never recedes.

“So, we are always looking for volunteers,” said Ussing.

To volunteer or to donate, interested individual can contact Ussing at 541-881-7622 or Dean at 541-709-8368.

The Vale Food Pantry is open Tuesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Thursday from noon until 3 p.m. The Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida food pantry is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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