Neighbor to Neighbor
Food pantries feed community’s rising hunger
Story and photos by Drew Myron
An hour before the food pantry opens, 80-year-old Bette Hyatt is first in line. The line gathers more shoppers by the minute. It grows so long organizers open early, eager to help their neighbors in need.
“This is a godsend,” says Karen Brotherson, who stands second in line at the Neighbor to Neighbor Food Pantry in Wamic. “Food prices are getting so bad. Everything’s gone up—electric, phone, everything. I’m 70 and still working. I clean vacation rental houses. I don’t know how they expect seniors to live.”
Lines of need are forming throughout Wasco and Sherman counties. In just two years, the Columbia Gorge Food Bank has doubled distribution of food in the Gorge and doubled the number of food partners.
Columbia Gorge Food Bank is a program of Oregon Food Bank that supports more than 30 hunger relief efforts in Wasco, Hood River and Sherman counties. CGFB manages donations from grocery stores, local orchards and government food commodities, then distributes the food to community pantries run by volunteers.
Hunger has doubled in Oregon since the beginning of the pandemic, notes Silvan Shawe, Columbia Gorge Food Bank’s community philanthropy manager.
“We’re trying to do everything we can do to make accessing food comfortable, because we feel no one should be hungry,” she says.
In response to the pandemic, food pantries were established in Wamic and Maupin. Two years later, they still bustle with folks trying to stretch their budgets with fresh, frozen and canned food.
A food pantry is a community site where individuals and families can receive free grocery items. While a food bank is typically a large storage and distribution center, a food pantry is arranged as a temporary store in which shoppers can choose their items.
Pantries are supplied by a food bank, along with donations from local stores and producers. Both food pantries and food banks share the same commitment: to provide food to those in need.
Shopping at a food pantry requires no money, and there are no income or residency requirements.
“You can just show up and get food,” says Colette Cox, who has lived in Wamic for more than 50 years and initiated the community’s food pantry. “A lot of people get food for themselves and a few other people who maybe can’t make it or don’t have transportation.”
Each pantry offers kitchen staples, such as beans, rice, milk, eggs, cheese, and a variety of dried and canned goods. Fresh vegetables and fruit are available. In the summer, the bounty expands with donations of garden goods.
By far, the most popular item is meat. Sometimes, local farmers and ranchers will donate U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified beef.
Neighbor to Neighbor Food Pantry is open two days a month. In a town of fewer than 100 residents, the pantry consistently draws 70 to 100 families.
“We’re a poor community,” Colette says. “The pandemic hit, and I knew we really, really needed it. There are a lot of people living on Social Security alone, living in RVs. There is a real need.”
Many shoppers are senior citizens on a fixed income, and some are raising their grandchildren, too.
“When you have to make a decision between gas or food, that’s a terrifying choice,” says Pantry Manager Gina Carey.
Similar stories ring throughout the region. In Maupin—a recreation and retirement town—Life Raft Pantry feeds 100 families each week. In Rufus, the pantry serves 50 households twice monthly. In Wasco, the pantry sees 25 families each month. The pantry in Dufur draws 80 people each week.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase due to the current economic situation,” says Shelly Hunt, manager of the Dufur Community Food Pantry. “The price of fuel and groceries is impacting people.”
Fueled by volunteer efforts, pantries operate on the hard work, compassion, and commitment of neighbors. Volunteers live in the community and work together to unload trucks, stock shelves, clean, organize spaces, arrange groceries, and welcome neighbors, strangers, family, and friends.
“Many hands make for light work,” Colette says. “The whole community adds to the effort. We’re all a part of the bigger whole.”
Community Food Pantries
To volunteer, donate, or access free food, visit your local food pantry
South Wasco County
Neighbor to Neighbor Pantry
- Wamic Community Center, downtown Wamic, on Wamic Market Road and Emigrant Street
- Open the first and third Thursday of every month from 1 to 4 p.m.
Life Raft Pantry
- 401 Fifth St., Maupin.
- Open every Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m. Dufur Community Food Pantry
- Inside Dufur School, 802 NE Fifth St.
- Open every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Rufus Food Pantry
- In the west end of Rufus Community Center, 304 W 2nd St., Rufus
- Open the second and fourth Friday of every month: second Friday from 10 a.m. to noon; fourth Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.
Sherman County Food Pantry
- In Wasco School Event Center, 903 Barnett St., Wasco
- Open the third Saturday of every month from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.