Increased need seen for local foodbank

Dennis Taylor

When times are as uncertain as they are now it is comforting to know we have some basic safety nets in place. And nothing is more basic than the need for food or more comforting than knowing food is available when things go bad.

Locally, one of those safety nets is the Mount Shasta Community Food Bank operated by St. Vincent DePaul, an international organization that exists to do what they can for the less fortunate.

Gabriel Aguirre is the president of the local conference and oversees the distribution of food to locals in need. The food bank operates out of a converted garage furnished to the organization by St. Anthony’s Church in Mount Shasta. Inside the building the walls are lined with a variety of canned goods that gives the appearance of a small store but without checkouts, cash registers or shopping carts.

The shelves are stocked with donations from food drives. Churches, youth groups, businesses, banks and even the post office help keep the shelves replenished. Canned vegetables, soup, meat, beans, sauces and peanut butter, along with boxed items like cereal, mac and cheese and rice all have a spot on shelves that, sooner or later, fill shopping bags that are distributed where needed.

The distribution process is simple. People call in to the food bank and leave a message for what they need. A volunteer will call them back to go over needs and what’s available and make arrangements to deliver the order to the recipient’s door. “We try hard to match needs,” Aguirre said.

The food bank delivers more than canned and packaged products. They also distribute about 80 pounds of frozen hamburger a month. Last month they got 40 pounds of ground beef from Great Northern to add to their own supply.

Right now the shelves are at about 50 percent capacity. “Most of the time we run low. We’re not here to keep the food,” Aguirre said.

Distribution is up this year and Aguirre thinks it may be due to worsening economic conditions. “I estimate we are up about 20 percent from previous years. We helped a hundred people in January and normally we help 1,000 a year, so we are on pace to help 1,200 this year,” he said. “We help people of all ages and a lot of them have been laid off or are unemployed.”

Besides food they get calls from people needing help to pay heating bills. In that case help will be offered in talking to the utility company to try and make financial arrangements. Other times the food bank will help with matching funds to pay down utility bills depending on funds available. Sometimes people need help with prescriptions, but that is usually something that is too expensive Aguirre said.

In times past people have been put up in motel rooms but that has also become too expensive and too involved and can include problems with liability that the food bank tries to stay away from. Because of the potential problems involving liability any help the food bank does give is done on referrals from the hospital or police for basic background checks. “I feel there is a real need to provide shelters but we can’t do that because there are liability issues with that also,” he said.

But sometimes the food bank can step in. “A family was in an accident on I-5 and needed a place to stay for three or four days and we helped,” Aguirre said.

Because every case is different it’s difficult to make hard rules. The 10 volunteers that man the food bank make most of the decisions on the spot. The volunteers deliver the food in pairs for safety reasons and work five days a week and are all from St. Anthony’s Parish.

The homeless are the hardest group to service. Since getting help from the food bank requires having a telephone, many homeless are without that convenience most of us take for granted. “Most homeless people don’t have the ability to cook or an address to deliver food to, but sometimes we are able to work through that and get them food,” Aguirre said.

The homeless tend to show up in late summer when it begins to get cold. “We don’t have a homeless shelter here so all we can do is offer them a bus ticket to either Medford or Redding where there are shelters, but most of the time they don’t take us up on that,” he said.

Aguirre is looking towards the future and wants to build a soup kitchen and forge some type of working situation with the Workforce Connection to help the unemployed that his organization comes in contact with often. “We want to get a soup kitchen going, but we’re having a hard time trying to find a place. I think that a soup kitchen is a group effort and that will take help from other people,” Aguirre said.

One problem with that Aguirre says is his organization’s lack of recognition. “I’m not sure there is an awareness in the community that there is a group like us taking care of 100 people a week,” he said.  But that’s a situation he hopes to change in time. 

For information on the food bank call 926-3061 and leave a message. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible.