Expanding the In-Feed-Structure

[Photo: Interior view of kitchen facilities]
Photo by Danielle Peterson of The Statesman Journal

SALEM, OREGON - On December 21st the Marion-Polk Food Share celebrated the grand opening of a brand-new, $585,000, 1500 square-foot community kitchen in its warehouse, a former tortilla factory in northeast Salem. It was enough to give geese goose bumps.

Just consider the enthusiastic comments of Autumn Wedeking, a South Salem High School senior and member of its Saxon Catering Team which hopes to be able to use the state-of-the-art facility.

"We could cook a goose," she told Jillian Daley of The Statesman Journal, "and make sure the ovens don't cook half - one side and not the other." Sounds great. Unless you're the goose.

But Marion-Polk Food Share is in the business of helping people, not geese. Since its founding in 1987, it's been a part of the statewide Oregon Food Bank Network responsible for collecting and, thanks to facilities like the new community food kitchen, preparing food for distribution to a network of more than 80 charitable organizations in the two counties.

Unfortunately, business is booming. From July 2009 through June 2010, it delivered $8.9 million - or 6.9 million pounds of food - and served almost 600,000 on-site meals through its network. In an area with an unemployment rate higher than the too high national average, a typical month has seen more than 6,500 Marion and Polk families asking for a Food Share emergency food box. More than four out of every ten members of those families are children. Given the current economy, those numbers, that demand are sure to grow.

A new community kitchen can't end a recession. But it will make the response to those who are its victims more efficient and effective. The key, explained Marion-Polk Food Share president Ron Hays, is self-sufficiency, teaching people how to cook emergency food box foods, shop on a budget and preserve food. The kitchen, he said, is a tool to help people become more self-sufficient so their reliance on emergency food will diminish "I'm in the business," he told The Statesman Journal, "of working myself out of a job and part of that is building self-sufficiency in people." The kitchen, he added, is a tool to help people become more self-sufficient so their reliance on emergency food will diminish. When up and fully operational, the City expects it to serve some 34,000 households - more than 120,000 people - every year.

In addition to contributions from the Spirit Mountain Community and U.S. Bank, maybe the "secret" or most surprising ingredient in covering the more than $500,000 cost of opening the kitchen was HUD Community Development Block Grant provided by the City of Salem.

"When you think HUD, you don't think food," said HUD Northwest Regional Administrator Mary E. McBride. "That's more the province of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Health and Human Services. But when you think HUD, you do think of programs designed to help communities meet their most pressing needs.  That's exactly what the City of Salem and Marion-Polk Food Share are doing. HUD is pleased to have played a small part in their very large and important undertaking."


Content Archived: December 23, 2013