Nov. 20, 2019 — Florence Food Share, which provides food for up to 3,500 individuals a month, is experiencing a severe shortage of donations, making this Saturday’s annual Pounding food and fundraiser vital for the winter months.
The problems began a few months ago when Food for Lane County, which brings a variety of fresh food to Florence from Springfield on a weekly basis, lost two commercial driver’s license (CDL) drivers.
“It limited the amount of food we can get,” said Florence Food Share Executive Director Janet Engle, who explained that non-CDL drivers are restricted in the amount of weight they can haul. Less weight means less food — “to the tune of 2,000 pounds a week. It’s amazing what 2,000 pounds less looks like, especially when you serve over 3,500 clients a month.”
It’s an issue that’s affecting food shares across the region.
“When I talked to Creswell, which is a very small food bank, they drive to Food for Lane County in Springfield and get what they need to get in pickup trucks,” Engle said. “It would be nice for us to do that, but we would have to have a refrigerated truck, and we don’t have that.”
Many of the items that came from Springfield were fresh fruits and vegetables. If the issue had occurred in the summer months, the issue may have been mitigated with fresh produce from Florence Food Share’s massive volunteer garden. But the loss of donations happened just as the garden was seasonally winding down.
“We do some vegetables all winter long, and there’s a couple things out there, but not a whole lot,” Engle added.
To add to the food share’s problems, the foot traffic donations have almost come to a stop. Then, what is donated lacks variety.
“When it comes to local donations, it doesn’t seem as varied, and variety is an important thing,” said Florence Food Share Operations Manager Colin Morgan.
To explain, he walked through the dry pantry, which in better days is filled with a wide variety of canned and dry goods from a multitude of vegetables to an array of different sauces. However, in these past few months, the variety has dwindled.
“Right now, it’s reasonably well stocked, but these entire two shelves are nothing but beans,” Morgan said. “That’s awesome, nothing wrong with beans, but there’s no variety.”
An entire shelf was filled with dry beans, dried cherries, some cans of northern beans and some lentils. Morgan moved to another shelf, which had a small section of boxes of mac and cheese.
“You have your noodles and rice here, which is also great, I love this stuff,” he said, but then turned to the next shelf. “And then … all beans.”
There were a dozen or so boxes of red beans, followed by kidney beans.
That was it.
Morgan took great pains to state that the bean donations are greatly appreciated, but the lack of variety can create problems.
“Variety is super important to our well-being, whether it be mentally or physically,” he said. “If you had to eat pinto beans for the next three months, yes it might fill you, but you’ve got to have more to fill out the food pyramid.”
In addition, Engle pointed out that some clients need have dietary restrictions that that demand variety.
“You get someone who’s on a heart healthy diet, and we want to be able to provide more of that,” she said. “Those specialty diets from doctors for weight loss, weight gain or diabetes.”
And then there is mental health.
“Even if your physical needs are met with pinto beans every single day, every single meal for the next two months, you will go crazy,” Morgan said.
While beans make up the majority of the dried goods, on the produce side, it’s all about the apples.
“Our local donations right now, the majority have been apples,” Morgan said. “Apples are great, but they’re not as filling as a meat product that we can get from Food for Lane County. That’s the big thing about getting hit by losing the food. Any drop in that supply, it just magnifies that variety problem. Even though it may not look bad in the numbers, it’s a problem.”
And it’s a problem that clients of Florence Food Share have been noticing.
“It’s sad. The other day, someone came in and said, ‘You don’t have peanut butter?’” Engel recalled. “That’s a good one for people to have, because people can make a peanut butter sandwich real quick. Tuna fish is really important. The tomato sauce, pastas, cereals.”
Despite the issues, both Engle and Morgan state that the organization is not in the type of crisis that befell it in 2017, when both food donations and financial issues put Florence Food Share’s survival in doubt.
“We are not at that point,” Engle said, explaining that many local organizations have helped in the past few months.
Grocery Outlet gave $800 in gift cards, and as it has done annually, will help with Saturday’s Pounding fundraiser.
“Safeway and Fred Meyer have been amazing, of course — we go over there and get food from them. … [Three Rivers Casino Resort] just gave us a $2,000 sponsorship for our two fundraisers coming in December and February,” Engle said. “The Ladies of the Elks have given quite a bit, as well as individuals like Tim Sapp. Some people give really big gifts, while our clients will bring just a handful of change because they want to pay something. Those donations have actually mitigated the losses for the month of October, where Food Share actually saw a slight increase of poundage from last year.”
Still, the variety has been drastically cut, and the situation is not expected to improve until a solution for the Food for Lane County trucks can be found and individual donations rise.
“Going forward from here on, we’re going to see more of that as it gets less and less,” Morgan said. “They’re trying to mitigate that, but it’s getting less and less.”
“So the Pounding is really, really important this year,” Engle said.
The Pounding is an annual event that takes place every Saturday before Thanksgiving. Held at Florence Grocery Outlet, the fundraiser sees locals coming to the store and buying as much food as possible, which is then donated to Florence Food Share. Each donation is weighed, and for every pound that is purchased, $1 is donated by local business Top Hydraulics, which Engle said has “been very generous, for this and every month.”
The fundraiser began nearly two decades ago by local resident, business owner and philanthropist Cindy Wobbe, who still heads up the program to this day.
“To my understanding, she had a Girl Scout Troop and realized 23 out of her 27 girls needed the food pantry,” Engle said. “She had no idea. She talks about the days when a minister came to town, and everyone would bring a pound of food for their larder. That was how it started.”
The event started small, with only 3,000 pounds raised by the community in its first year. Last year, the Pounding took in 16,000 pounds.
“It’s our 19th year this Saturday,” Engle said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had 19,000 pounds this year?”
As for the type of food the food share needs in donations, Grocery Outlet will put signs on the food its clients need the most. But people are also allowed to bring in food to weight from other sources.
“What we need is the peanut butter, the tuna fish, the tomato sauce, the pasta,” Engle said. “It’s the stuff to make that Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner, too. Just the makings, and anything extra.”
After the Pounding, the next fundraiser for Florence Food Share will be Empty Bowls, which is held on Dec. 6 to 8 at the Florence Events Center. In that event, the public buys locally made bowls that come with certificates for soup from local restaurants.
“We’ve gone through 700 pounds of clay for that,” Engle said. “They put out up to 1,400 bowls, and we have 10 restaurants that are doing the soup, plus Shorewood [Senior Living], because they produce some nice food.”
After that, it’s the annual Crab Crack on Feb. 1, which is an all-you-can-eat-buffet of freshly caught crab.
“We sell 400 tickets for that, but this year we’re adding on 50 to-go boxes, which will be nice,” Engle said. Tickets go on sale Dec. 10.
Engle is also working on summer fundraisers that will help the food share year-round.
For the former juvenile corrections officer and assisted living worker, who began working for Florence Food Share in July, Engle has found the community support around food share has been astounding.
“I’ve only had one person flat out refuse to donate anything, and that just amazes me,” Engle said. “Everybody says, ‘If not this time, next time.’ It’s just a very generous community.”
And she believes the volunteers who help the organization, along with the people it serves, make the program vital for the community.
“I can’t believe the number of volunteers that have been here, for the number of years that have been here,” Engle said. “All that positive energy. What I tell people is, ‘They’re not coming for food, they come here because of the relationships.’ They’re greeted. We have one greeter who always says, ‘Good morning you beautiful people of Florence.’ And she means it! And there’s hugs. When someone comes in for the first time and they’re embarrassed, they leave knowing that it’s something they shouldn’t be embarrassed about. We all needed help somewhere in our lives.”
The 19th annual Pounding for Florence Food Share will be held at Grocery Outlet, 2066 Highway 101, this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Florence Food Share is located at 2190 Spruce St., next door to the New Life Lutheran Church, and is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 4 to 6 pm. On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, the food share is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, visit www.florencefoodshare.org.