[Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2022]
Submitted by Eva Calcagno on behalf of St Barnabas Episcopal Church
In March 2020, the day after the schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church saw a need and opened a food pantry. “All the local food pantries had shut down (including Neighborhood House) and we were the only support in the area. We had no idea how long we'd be operating, but we were the only operation in the area for more than a year,” remembers Jennie Armstrong, church member and volunteer coordinator.
Parish members realized that food insecurity would only grow with the pandemic as people lost jobs, schools remained closed, and other community support structures were curtailed. In the beginning, a small number of church members supported the effort, donating their own money, but soon most of the congregation got involved.
Protocols were developed based on supermarket practices to keep everyone safe. To limit the time volunteers and customers were in contact, grocery bags were pre-filled. As the number of customers grew, from 6 to 30 to over 100 families, volunteers surveyed customers in multiple languages (English, Spanish, Russian and Arabic) to figure out what they needed most. More volunteers were recruited, and donations came in, or were solicited. Grocery stores, bakeries, farms, and other businesses stepped up and provided free food. Food and cleaning products were donated by parish and community members, and cash donations allowed volunteers to purchase needed items to assure that recipients received fresh, healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, meat or vegetarian options, dairy, breads, cereal, and dry goods.
Bags were distributed from the parish hall as well as from the community room at Stephens Creek Crossing. Over 100 families were served each week at the height of the pandemic in January 2021, and as of December of 2021, parish members had donated over $19,100 in cash contributions for the Food Pantry.
By March 2022, COVID cases declined. Federal emergency funds were distributed, jobs returned, and schools reopened, and the number served by the food pantry declined to about 50-65 families per week. That number is slowly rising again and as of this past June we were serving 60-75 families per week.
The Pantry Becomes a Market
In 2021 the pantry transformed to a weekly market. Instead of pre-stocked grocery bags, customers were able to select their own items, allowing them to choose what they need and foods of their liking.
As with the Pantry, the Market relies on community support to purchase items that food retailers and farms do not typically donate: toilet paper, cleaning products, personal hygiene products, fruit and dry goods.
Armstrong, who has coordinated the outreach effort since the program began, stresses that the Food Market is open to anyone who needs it. Unlike Neighborhood House and other government supported programs, we do not ask for ID or employment history, or for an address or proof of legal residence. We do not issue ID numbers to limit the number of visits per year or ask for proof of registration for government assistance. “That's important because many people still believe that their path to green cards is going to be ruined by asking for food aid,” says Armstrong.
It takes an estimated 60 hours of volunteer time per week to host each 90-minute Saturday Market. This includes gathering donations (from stores and farms), purchasing additional supplies, setting up for the market, operating and serving customers, cleaning-up afterwards, and providing coordination and volunteer management. Volunteer hours add up to the equivalent of $1797 per week, according to the national non-profit member organization Independent Sector, or over $93,400 per year.
Of the approximately 50 volunteers who support this effort, about 30 help in any given week performing one or more tasks from driving to farms and stores to pick up donations, sorting and packaging donations, setting up tables, serving the customers, cleaning up afterwards, and doing coordination tasks like scheduling volunteers, fund-raising and grant-writing, addressing safety issues (EX: COVID!, snow!), etc.
While the Market is hosted and supported by St. Barnabas Church, it has grown into a larger, community effort. Neighborhood residents continue to donate food and cleaning items for the Market and there are now 10 regular volunteers who are not parish members.
What’s next? St. Barnabas continues to see a necessary role in feeding our hungry neighbors and providing some stability for families that are experiencing food insecurity, taking to heart the scripture from Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Indeed, making customers feel welcome and working to meet their individual dietary needs is an important aspect of the Market, and we continue to ask customers what they need most and to communicate necessary information in multiple languages.
Plans to ensure the continued operation of the Food Market include fundraising and grant-writing, and community outreach at events such as Multnomah Days and the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market.
St. Barnabas would like to recognize and thank the business supporters of the Food Market Program. Some are one-time or occasional donors; others are weekly, ongoing supporters:
Albertsons (Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy)
US Chef’s Food Store (Tigard)
Montecucco Farms (Canby)
Cal Farms (Oregon City)
Einstein Bros. Bagels (Hillsdale)
Employees of Nectar
New Seasons Market (Raleigh Hills)
The St. Barnabas Food Market is open to anyone each Saturday from noon to 1:00 pm. Donations can be delivered between 9 am and 11 am to the church hall. With summer in full swing, donations of homegrown fruits and vegetables from home gardens are particularly welcome, as well as purchased baked goods, dry goods, cleaning, and hygiene products. We do not accept expired or homemade food products.
Cash donations are also appreciated and needed. Donations by check may be mailed to the church (2201 SW Vermont St., Portland 97219); online donations may be made at www.saintbarnabaspdx.org (click on the “Donate” tab, then click on “Donate Now” and select “Food Market” from the drop-down Fund list).
Have you noticed other pandemic-era innovations that are going to stick around? Let us know.