In the community, Local government

Vale Food Pantry scrambling to find a new home as city mulls selling old city hall building

VALE – The Vale Food Pantry is looking for a new home.

For nearly 20 years the local food bank handed out supplies to those in need from the basement of the old Vale city hall.

The city, though, plans to list the building as surplus and sell it.

 “It is something we have been looking at for a while and it is time to get moving on it. The city is not in a position to be landlords,” said Tom Vialpando, Vale mayor.

In 2020 the city bought the former Umpqua Bank building at 150 Longfellow St. N. to replace the 80-year-old city hall across from the Malheur County Courthouse.

The city moved into the bank building in October 2020. Since then, the county and Elkhorn Public Defender have rented space at the old city hall.

However, Elkhorn Public Defender recently moved and is now at the old Masonic Hall at 170 Main S. The county used the building during Covid for grand jury proceedings but no longer leases space.

Vialpando said the city wants to help the pantry find a new location.

Vale Food Pantry volunteer Amanda Davila wheels a cartload of food to distribute, Thursday, Feb. 15. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

“We’ve been trying to find different ways we can help, even it if goes to a mobile pantry,” said Vialpando.

Vale Food Pantry volunteer Chris Strauchon said the city has been generous over the years and paid for the utilities and other costs. She said city officials also made it clear the old city hall would be sold at some point in the future.

“The city has been upfront,” said Strauchon.

Strauchon said the pantry must now formulate a plan for the future that includes a way to pay rent for a new building, utilities and internet.

“This is all new to us,” said Strauchon.

The food pantry, said Strauchon, is staffed by volunteers and the number of people seeking assistance climbed since 2022.

According to statistics provided by Strauchon, the Vale Food Pantry served 1,155 families in 2022. In 2023, the pantry served 1,800 families.

In December 2023, Strauchon said, the pantry provided food to 173 families and 704 individuals.

Todd Fuller, Vale city manager, said the city will not subsidize the food pantry once the building is sold.

Yet he said the city doesn’t want to “kick the pantry to the curb.”

“That’s because there is a lot of need so we’ll work through it. We want to make sure they have a home,” he said.

He said there is not a firm timeline regarding when the city would sell the building. First, he said, an appraisal on the building needs to be completed. He said the market value of the building is $240,000.

Strauchon and Connie Ussing, food pantry manager, said the group has looked at several sites in town for relocation. One building that could work, said Strauchon, is the now-vacant Lienkaemper Funeral Chapel at 222 Yakima St. S.

“We’ve looked at that and there is a possibility of a building over by the middle school but none of those are solid. We are just trying to come up with ideas and funding sources,” said Ussing.

Strauchon said the Lienkaemper building – owned by area resident Jack Helm – is one of the group’s best options but no final decision on relocating there has been made. She said if the pantry found a way to lease the Lienkaemper building, a local community member who wished to remain anonymous has promised to pay for the first year of rent.

Strauchon also said Food Pantry volunteers spoke during a Vale City Council meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 6 and asked if the city would consider turning over the city hall building to the group on a three-year lease with an option to buy.

No decision was made by the council on the group’s proposal.

The closure of the food pantry would be “devastating,” said Ussing.

“So, we are going to scramble to do everything we can,” said Ussing.

Ussing said the pantry also wants to create partnerships with existing agencies, such as Community in Action, to remain open. 

“There might be an entity out there that is looking for partners,” said. Ussing.

Vialpando said the city has “been up front with the food bank from the get-go,” about a possible sale of the building.

“We can’t hold onto the old city hall forever,” he said.

The Vale Food Pantry reached out to the county for financial assistance more than a year ago but never received a reply, said Strauchon. The county is still sitting on more than $10 million in America Rescue Plan Act and Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency funds. The county has committed some of that money – including $2 million to the beleaguered Treasure Valley Reload Center – but remain focused on spending the extra cash on county needs.

In January, Ron Jacobs, Malheur County commissioner, said once county needs are met, officials could review other requests for money from other organizations.

Last week, Jacobs said the county “recognizes” the important role of the food pantry.

“Hopefully we can help them some way,” he said.

Jacobs said he was not sure if county assistance would, or could, include funding.

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

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