Need doubles at food banks


August 3, 2023

Local food banks are seeing more traffic these days thanks to a trifecta of higher prices at the grocery store, a decrease in SNAP benefits, and no summer lunch program.

If you think it’s just families with kids, think again. The pantries are getting visited by seniors more than ever, as they look for ways to extend their sometimes limited incomes.

Tom Gartski at the St. Catherine Catholic Church/St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Cathlamet says numbers are up because of the price of food.

“A lot of people,” he said, “they tell us it is so high. Many of them feel like food is fifty percent higher than it was just a year or so ago. They can’t afford everything so they come in and supplement it.”

Six months ago, they were serving about 40 families. The number is now around 70.

“There are more seniors lately,” Gartski said. “Our little community is different than some others. There are some people who come every time we are open, but the majority of people who come to the food bank only come when they really need it. And that might be once a month or once every two months. The numbers keep climbing.”

As far as donations, Gartski says they are doing pretty well at St. Catherines, which is supported by St. Vincent de Paul. The food bank is located at 400 Columbia Street in Cathlamet and is open the first and third Wednesday of each month. Commodities, which is additional food supplied through a government program, are also available for people who sign up.

At the West End Food Pantry at Johnson Park in Rosburg, the number of people visiting has doubled.

“This time last year we were doing about 15 people a week,” Shonda Ware said. “Now we are up to close to 30 families a week.”

Donations are going down and it might be for the same reason people are visiting food banks.

“The cost of food is going up so much,” Ware said, echoing Gartski. “Before if you had a little bit extra you would give it to the food bank. Well now the cost of buying and the cost of gas to go get it is up, while wages are not up.”

“We used to have people donate beef or a lot of chicken, but this year we are not receiving the donation of beef like we usually do,” she added. “The state isn’t even giving us ground chicken any more.”

Like St. Catherines, Ware said their food pantry is now offering commodities, which add up to a couple extra bags of food each month. This usually includes canned goods, peanut butter, tomato sauce, pasta, nuts, dried fruit, and more.

Ware said that they also received donations from the Wahkiakum Community Garden, which provides fresh produce to all the food banks in the county, as well as from a Westend farm, Jans Organic Farm, and other local farmers and gardeners.

“The fresh vegetables from the the local gardeners are nice,” Ware said.

Donations are always welcome and with school starting soon, Ware suggests peanut butter and jelly, bread, and snacks for school lunches, or just something to help get kids through what remains of the summer.

“If someone has a spare cow they would like to donate to us,” Ware said, “we’d take a spare cow. We’ll take anything and everything. Toiletries are always a need. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, diapers.”

She expressed gratitude to the Wahkiakum Animal Advocate Group, which brings dog and cat food once a month.

“Anyone wanting to make a donation can contact the Westend Food Pantry,” Ware said. “Someone will gladly come buy to pick up the donation.”

The West End Food Pantry is open Thursdays from 1-5, but Ware says someone is there throughout the day.

Visits to the Wahkiakum County Food Pantry have doubled as well.

“People are struggling,” Esther Roche, one volunteer, said.

Another volunteer, Nora Lee Sorenson, broke down numbers from May. Of the 224 people who received food from their food bank, 13 were between the ages of 0-2, 56 were between 3-18, 72 were age 19-54, and 83 were 55 and over.

Seniors are showing up in higher numbers, Sorenson said.

“Because of SNAP benefits decreasing, we have seen an uptick in our amount of people and food we are giving out,” Sorenson said.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had increased the amount of their benefits during the pandemic, but earlier this year, the amount provided to low income people decreased substantially.

Like Ware, Sorenson was grateful for the fresh produce provided by the Wahkiakum Community Garden and for government surplus from Lower Columbia CAP (Community Action Program), as well as food and monetary donations from the community.

“This community is very generous as far as helping us,” Sorenson said. “We appreciate any help we can get.”

The food bank always offers eggs, milk, margarine, bread, and some type of ground meat.

A lot of our people love game, Sorenson said, but they haven’t seen much of it lately. She’s just learned that a cow has been donated. While the food bank is responsible for the cost of slaughter, cutting, and wrapping, she is grateful.

“It will probably get us through the winter, hopefully,” Sorenson said.

For anyone looking to donate, the food bank is always looking for kid friendly food, like boxed cereal, peanut butter, jelly, soups, and canned fruits. Toiletries are always needed. They give away a lot of toilet paper, shampoos, dish and laundry detergent.

“We don’t turn anything down,” Roche said. “We’ve had some food drives. Jabber Shack had won. River Mile 38 had one. Summer bible schools. Every once in awhile the Lions Club does one. Everything helps.”

The Wahkiakum County Food Bank is located at 42 Elochoman Valley Road and is open Tuesdays from 2-4 p.m.

“I really enjoy working here,” Sorenson said. “We see a lot of good people.”

Sue Zabel at Jabber Shack recently organized the second annual Cup of Sunshine food drive. Donations for food banks can be dropped off at her shop, which is located on Main Street in Cathlamet, at any time. To make a monetary donation, contact the food bank.


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