Community centers and food banks, like the Sandy Community Action Center, Sandy, Oregon, work on the front lines of today's economic recovery. And they need support.
As financial storms break out across the country, people with the fewest resources feel the impacts immediately, and most forcefully. The smaller their income, the greater the consequences and strain. For the poorest families, food banks and smaller agencies, like the Sandy Community Action Center, Sandy, Oregon, stand at the ready, hoping their suppliers and donations will withstand the current crisis.
“Finding support has always been difficult,” said director Rita Ezard, the center’s only paid staff member. The city of
Sandy provides an annual $2,000 grant; the Kiwanis and local churches
donate regularly, too. “One church sends $16 every month without
fail,” said Ezard. “If every church in the area sent the same amount,
it would make a huge difference each year. I don’t think most people
understand that regular small donations make a great difference to us.
Especially right now when so many people are in a financial pinch. Our
client base is up while our money is down!”
The Sandy Community Action Center dispenses food and support to a growing list of at risk families in northwest Clackamas County. The center has served over 6200 people and currently has over 500 clients. They include 148 families with children, 58 elderly people, 149 single parents with children, and 72 homeless people.
At present, the center obtains most of its food from the The Oregon Food Bank, an organization that divides and dispenses specified amounts of stores to 915 agencies throughout the state and in Clark County, Washington. Beyond this, Action Center finds local stores that agree to donate outdated or day old items, including bread, pastries, dairy, produce, and deli goods (and, in the case of Starbucks, pastries and coffee).
Guiding the Action Center, Rita Ezard has forged a way through times of need and plenty since 1994. Then, she was looking for a job when her husband came home with an application from the Action Center. He had been there looking for a lamp at the center’s thrift store. She filled in the form and set it out of her mind while pursuing a teaching position. To her surprise, the office called and offered her the job to which she replied, “No thanks.” Not to be turned down, they called again to ask if she would just come for the summer. Ezard agreed and…well, she’s still there, fifteen years later.
To keep the Action Center running smoothly, nearly 40 volunteers come
and go, sorting, cleaning, stacking, repairing, washing, and driving
the very old 1983 hand-painted GMC van to pick up food from Fred
Meyers, Safeway and Starbucks.
The Sandy Community Action Center buys its food from the Oregon Food Bank but, Ezard says, “the amount of available food to our agency has dropped by two-thirds” since last year. New food agencies have opened up, so the food bank must divide its stores into more parcels. “Obviously that means we all get less so each can get some. Another challenge,” Ezard said. She ppointed out that government regulations require the Action Center to spend its food funds within four months, “So we can’t simply save the money and buy when it’s best or cheapest.”
Housed in a former U.S. Post Office, the Action Center has a thrift store which brings in approximately $40,000 per year. (By a strange twist of events, the Goodwill established a large store two blocks east, putting “a dent,” Ezard said, in the Center’s sales.) Even though the money has been good, Ezard would prefer to separate the food section from the store.
“I want an independent facility supported by private donations and grants. I would prefer to get out from under the governmental guidelines and restrictions.” With donations and independent income, Ezard said, the Center could establish relationships with a wider group of vendors and provide more varied foods.
Meanwhile, Ezard want to redirect the Center’s focus, to become “an advocate for the homeless and low income. The more you talk with our clients,” she said, “the more you understand how financially challenging their lives are. Some of our clients skip meals so their children can have food. Some must decide between needed medication or food; others can’t drive their cars because they cannot afford gas or repairs. “
“I hope the new president understands what it is like to go without,” she said.
Casting her sights ahead, Ezard mused, “We need a bigger building. The homeless are comfortable here. They know we care and are not judging them. I’ve discovered that sometimes people simply need a hug or someone to talk to. A friend.”
Ezard hopes that the Sandy Community Action Center will be able to acquire the property next door and build a social center for low-income people and the homeless — “a place of comfort and encouragement. People need to share with others about their lives.” With added space, she said, the Center could provide more parking, a walk-in cooler and freezer, a laundromat, and showers, as well as “a coffee/sandwich section so people can sit, relax and talk.”
How does a place like the Sandy Community Action Center operate?
“We don’t have lots of rules here,” said Ezard, “but everyone must obey those we have or they will be asked to leave. Basically, it gets down to respect for the center and towards our volunteers. Think of others, not yourself,” she said. “Really, it’s the Golden Rule. If any volunteer has a problem with a person, they know to get me and I will resolve it. I know most of our clients, since we grew up together in this area.”
Returning to her desk after answering a few volunteer questions and problems, Ezard settled in just as the phone rang, requiring her full attention yet again.
“Americans love to give,” she said. “If each of the nearly 10,000 people who live in this area gave just $1 per month, we would have an additional $10,000 per month in operating funds without being a burden to any one person. And then, if all the churches gave some small amount, like $5 or $10 per month, the impact would be wonderful for us and those we serve.”
Ezard believes everyone should give, whether they’re rich, somewhere in the middle, or poor. “If people are on food stamps, they should consider giving a little each month to help others,” she said. “We need to get back to the old ways of communities caring for each other. We don’t live on this planet alone. . .we need to help each other.”