By CHRISTINA WOOD
Of the Baker City Herald
The streets of North Powder were quiet, but the local Grange Hall saw lots of activity as volunteers filled boxes of food to prepare for the second month of operation of the North Powder Food Bank.
Tables, chairs and shelves were piled high with food both from donations and from Community Connections of Union County.
They said Take all you want! said volunteer Joyce Lawyer. They shouldnt have told me that. I took all I could carry.
The new program seeks to assist families in the North Powder Valley who are often unable to travel to the La Grande office 20 miles away to get food. While the local Catholic Church had operated a food bank in the past, only a few families ever took advantage of the service. The office wasnt open very often and few people knew about the program.
The new food bank program is an extension of this effort at outreach. According to Joyces husband, Melvin, the program has already reached more people in one day than previous efforts did in months.
We gave away more food in one day than they had in a year, he claimed.
Thirty-eight families received boxes in February and another 40 were distributed in March.
Joyce said many of the families had children. There were a few single people, mostly senior citizens on small fixed incomes. Families with only two members were usually single mothers with one child. Seven families consisted of both parents and four children, six with five children, four with six children and two families had eight.
The boxes contained a variety of items, including fresh bread, fruits and vegetables both canned and fresh, non-perishable boxed items, pasta, rice, and potatoes.
There are also packages of frozen Maine blueberries and sloppy joe mix as well as frozen Alaskan salmon fillets. The later items were distributed through U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
We plan to start having canned food drives in the area in the future and we will be asking grocery stores for donations of out-of-date and damaged items that they cannot sell, Joyce said. We want to provide as much of the food by local donations as we can. We expect some will donate extra meat and perhaps a potato farmer will allow us to glean from his fields at harvest time. There are local people with fruit trees and gardens where food goes to waste and we are hopping they will contact us and donate the surplus to the program.
We are just getting acquainted with what we have here in Union County. Community Connections gave us a list of food sources to contact and we are just learning where they are, she added.
The program also offered a number of woolen disaster blankets. While warmer weather is just around the corner, many families will still welcome the grey utilitarian blankets on their beds.
The Lawyers, both in their sixties, were joined by their daughter, Vickie Pedro and others in the community in filling boxes to be passed out later last week..
Most of us volunteers dont qualify for this food, Melvin added. Families are asked to bring in the social security numbers of all members and proof of income in 2001 to apply for the benefit. Since eligibility is based on income and number of people in the family and the figures change frequently, Joyce advised people to come in and apply even if they suspect they might be ineligible.
Well work out the figures and register them. They wouldnt have to re-register every time and we will keep the records here to take back to Community Connections. We expected to receive allotments based on need in the community and we will have to have the figures to prove the need.
Joyce said the April distribution will be April 24 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Volunteers will be needed in the morning to move boxes and pack them. Anyone interested in volunteering can come in after 9 a.m.
More than 20 volunteers had worked 58 hours to collect, transport, sort and distribute the boxes which were given out on Wednesday. Joyce said this was a community effort to solve a community problem. She said the food was available and there were people in North Powder who will benefit by its local distribution.