Tribal Government & News

Community readies for new food bank in Grand Ronde

11.13.2014 Dean Rhodes Tribal Council, Health & Wellness, People

The local food bank, operated by the Grand Ronde Community Resource Center out of a building near Uxyat Powwow Grounds, is a nonprofit funded by the Tribe and government grants, with in-kind contributions from Marion-Polk Food Share.

The facility is moving to a new building with new management closer to Tribal housing. Food Share, partnering with the Tribe, will operate the facility that opens on Monday, Dec. 1.

Food Share intends to increase the food bank's hours in January, says Ian Dixon-McDonald, vice president of Programs for Marion-Polk Food Share, from once every other week to once every week. In December, it will keep the previous operating times: Dec. 5 and 19, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Under Tribal Council direction, Food Share will bring a new outlook with input from the community and experts in the field to meet local and ongoing emergency food needs.

"We're looking forward to having Food Share's wealth of expertise as we open this state-of-the-art food pantry," says Rick George, interim general manager for the Tribe and current point man for the new operation.

George's direct responsibility will eventually be turned over to a Tribal department still to be named.

"The larger vision the Tribe has," he says, "is to understand the entire emergency food system."

"We want to be part of the Grand Ronde community," says Dixon-McDonald, "to understand community needs for the long term. It's more than providing food. We want to be involved with community gardening, nutrition and cooking efforts. We want to make sure we're doing what the community wants and needs. This is not a cookie cutter plan."

The Tribe wants to know how the system works, if the operation needs to be improved and how best to do that.

To that end, Food Share has turned to University of Oregon graduate student Lexi Stickel. Her expertise is in conflict resolution and nonprofit management. She has a 12-month contract, ending in August, to develop a community foods assessment. Food Share will then follow up.

Stickel will organize community gatherings to discuss the area's challenges and local assets that can be marshalled. The result of that work will be a community foods assessment, which will be a written document that summarizes the current state of the overall emergency food system locally and identifies key ideas or projects worth pursuing.

"Lexi's role is to listen to the community first, and support and empower the community to find solutions that make access to good food easier for all," says Dixon-McDonald. "Actual implementation of specific ideas will be primarily up to the community itself."

Included in the process will be the sourcing of fresh vegetables, breads and meats - all the food that goes into a healthy diet. Among the questions that need to be answered: Does the community need a grocery store that will be a local source of fresh food? How might the community garden contribute? Everything that goes into getting emergency food to Tribal and community members, and making access easy, are up for consideration.

A tip of the hat is due to longtime volunteers and members of the Grand Ronde Community Resource Center board. Many have been serving for years. They are Chair Ellen Fischer, Vice Chair Claudia Leno, Secretary Julie Duncan, Louise Medeiros and Candy Robertson.

Currently, says Duncan, the facility off Hebo Road serves 600 families and "every month we get five to 10 new people."

Food Share has been hiring for the manager position and is using Tribal preference as encouragement for applications from people already in the Grand Ronde Tribal community.

"It's not a guarantee," says Dixon-McDonald, "but that is our preference."

By the application deadline, up to 10 people had applied, according to Connie Holmes, Tribal Human Resources manager.

In addition to the manager position, Food Share is seeking as many as 20 to 25 volunteers, Dixon-McDonald says.

The new building, a 3,300-square-foot food distribution center, is located at 9675 Grand Ronde Road, across the street from the Tribal Housing Authority building. It contains a warehouse/distribution area that includes a walk-in cooler and freezer, training room/kitchen, waiting and reception area, and office space.

"It was designed for our current needs," says George, "and there is room for building expansion."

The project has been funded by a $500,000 Housing & Urban Development Indian Community Development block grant as well as an Indian Housing block grant in the amount of $204,179 that the Tribal Housing Authority also paid as the Tribe's match obligation. The total development budget was $704,179. The final cost came in under budget at $700,350.87.

Also, the Tribe is seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to support commodities needed at the food bank.

Tribal Council also is seeking a Chinuk Wawa name for the food bank.

With a $2.5 million to $3 million budget, Marion-Polk Food Share distributes 8 million pounds of food annually and serves 40,000 individuals a month, says Dixon-McDonald.

Salem-based Food Share supports 102 partner agencies that distribute food from the nonprofit's warehouse. It also supports a network of 48 food box sites in two counties. This is Food Share's first foray into managing a food bank.

"It's a new type of project for us," Dixon-McDonald says.

"I'll miss all the people, the clients we've gotten to know," says Duncan. "We can laugh with them and joke with them. I've been doing it for four years."

With her spare time now, Duncan says, "I work for the Elders Committee, so I'll have more time to spend there."

"It's time to rebuild," says George, "to invite folks to work with the Tribe and Food Share, and do as good as they can to provide for children, families and Elders."