Christine Strauchon (right), a volunteer at the Vale Food Pantry, helps clients choose food items on a recent Thursday. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)
VALE – The Vale Food Pantry is seeing more community members than usual, and it’s not just due to the holiday season.
“It’s definitely gone up and stayed up,” said food pantry manager Connie Ussing, of the local need.
Ussing said that not quite a year ago, the food pantry at 252 B St. W. was serving 70 to 80 households. But now Ussing says they’re averaging closer to 120 households per month and have seen as many as 132.
In all, 370 individuals visited in October, said volunteer Luwana Hinrich. In September the number was 328.
Most people in Vale, where the poverty rate hovers over 20%, would probably qualify for the pantry, said Ussing.
Hinrich said the need has spiked so much that workers have had to become more mindful to ensure that the Vale pantry primarily serves local residents and not folks from neighboring cities where there are also food pantries.
It’s an emergency pantry that’s supposed to keep someone fed for three to five days, said volunteer Ida Keim.
“We never send anyone away hungry,” she said.
Hinrich said pantry volunteers are hearing more and more stories of people who are recent transplants to Oregon. Some people say they’ve come from Idaho, drawn to the western Treasure Valley due to higher wages and legal marijuana which they use for medical reasons.
Despite the housing pinch in eastern Oregon, some people have shared that they now live in campers or in tents.
Kathy Oliver, manager of the Nyssa Pantry for the past 12 years, also said she’s seen more community members come in to that pantry.
“I haven’t seen the need go up like I’ve seen it this year,” Oliver said.
Area pantries received donations of turkeys with stuffing in time for Thanksgiving. The turkey and Thanksgiving meals were passed out Tuesday at the Vale outlet, which will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.
Donations of food or cash are accepted year round, added Hinrich. Canned vegetables, flour, oil and other baking needs are always needed, Ussing said, and produce always flies off the shelves.
For the holiday season, Hinrich said oatmeal, soup and tomato sauce are appreciated since they don’t always receive those items from the Oregon Food Bank.
“This winter I’ve been going through my stuff and donating warm clothes,” said Hinrich. Coats and other gently worn clothing, especially children’s clothing, can also be donated. Hinrich said the pantry has given most of its clothing supply away.
As she spoke, a little boy opened the door and quizzed his mother, “Is it our turn yet?” When it was, he helped push the cart loaded with grapes and potatoes.
Another item that’s always needed? Volunteers.
The Vale pantry can use help when it opens for clients on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursdays from noon to 3 p.m. Extra hands are always welcome every other Wednesday at 1:45 to unload donations.