Organization is trying to reach more people in need
JEFFERSON — Patricia Mixell has lived in Jefferson 13 years. But she didn’t learn about the Jefferson Community Food Pantry until last February, when she was invited to join a community dinner.
A few months later, she began coming to Jefferson United Methodist Church to go “shopping” at the food pantry on Wednesdays.
“Yes, it does help, especially when you’re a senior and you’re on a fixed income,” she said. “You can’t stock your freezer or refrigerator or your pantry. So this really helps a lot.”
The food pantry has been around two years but underwent a major reorganization just last month, said Tami Manning, one of the four team members who organize the pantry. Now, volunteers are trying to get the word out about the services the pantry provides.
Jefferson used to have a food “bank” where people in need could come pick up a box of nonperishable goods. But that closed down about four months ago, leaving the pantry as the main resource for residents looking to stretch their grocery budgets.
In contrast to a food bank, a food pantry allows people to pick out the individual items they need, Manning said. But at first, the Jefferson pantry had no regulations on what could be taken or how much.
Nor was the pantry keeping track of the individuals in each person’s family, which meant someone in a family of four could say he needed food for eight people and simply carry it all away.
From an inventory and organizational standpoint, that setup was a nightmare, Manning said. It was almost impossible to provide the same selection for the first people in line as for those last in line. It also left families inadequately stocked for the month and didn’t make sure their nutritional needs were met.
This summer, volunteers reorganized the pantry. Patrons now must register themselves and their family members. Once each month, they are allowed a “full shop,” meaning they may take a certain number of items, depending on their family size, from throughout the pantry.
Shoppers are given choices within specific food groups such as meat, margarine, eggs and canned goods. They may stop by for just bread and produce during the other weeks of the month.
“People tell us it makes a huge difference,” Manning said.
Right now, the pantry has 137 total registered families and individuals, and serves an average 72 per week.
Volunteers have offered other special benefits off and on since the pantry began, but this month they also began a specific monthly outreach to children in the families that patronize the pantry.
August was focused on school supplies, which were distributed to 25 youngsters this week and last. September and October will include the distribution of tied fleece blankets.
Some things at the pantry haven’t changed. Volunteers put in a free community garden three years ago that is accessible to the public around the clock. The sign says simply, “Help Yourself.”
They also still organize a free community meal the last Wednesday of every month. All are welcome.
That’s how Johanna Velek came to learn about the food pantry. She attends Jefferson United Methodist and began bringing her family to the community meals. Occasionally, she said, she shops at the pantry, too.
“It’s nice to have as an option,” she said.
ABOUT THE FOOD PANTRY
What: Jefferson Community Food Pantry and community garden.
When: Pantry open from 3 to 6 p.m. each Wednesday, with a free community meal from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. the last Wednesday of each month. The garden is accessible to the public at all times.
Where: Jefferson United Methodist Church, 310 N. Second St., Jefferson.
Sponsorships: Jefferson United Methodist, Scio Gleaners and Linn Benton Food Share/Oregon Food Bank are among the main sponsors.
Food donations: Fresh produce may be left at the pantry each Wednesday from 2 to 6 p.m. Products such as tuna, canned chicken, 100 percent juice, peanut butter and commercially-canned fruits and vegetables currently may be left in the pantry donation site at Umpqua Bank and in a new donation barrel to be at Jefferson Thriftway after Sept. 1.
Tax-deductible donations: Cash donations are accepted during pantry hours. Make checks to Jefferson United Methodist Church, with “food pantry” on the memo line, and send to JUMC, P.O. box 76, Jefferson, OR, 97352.
To volunteer: Contact Jo Hamby at 541-327-2413.
Information: Jefferson United Methodist Church, 541-248-7282.