Annual holiday food drive Project ELFF netted nearly 13,000 units of food in The Dalles last week, all of which will help fill Christmas food baskets for some 250 families in town.
The amount is down considerably from last year’s record haul of over 20,000 units, but not far below the typical yearly average of 16-17,000, said Kris Harmon, business manager at the Salvation Army.
The Christmas food boxes will not be smaller as a result of fewer donations, Harmon said, but by January or February the food pantry may need more supplementing.
Project ELFF (Everybody Loves a FireFighter), a door-to-door food drive, is a longtime service of Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue and Dallesport Volunteer Fire Department. When St. Vincent de Paul closed its food bank in late summer (it hopes to reopen Tuesday), Harmon said the Salvation Army saw an
increased demand. “We saw, almost overnight, our food expenses shoot sky high, because we’ve had to bring in more and more food and not just rely on what we could get from the Oregon Food Bank.”
But what’s curious to Harmon is that while demand for regular food boxes increased sharply, the amount of requests to Salvation Army for Christmas food boxes is no higher than normal.
“That’s the one area where we have not seen a humungous increase like we have in our regular food boxes. So I’m really confused why we didn’t see a difference,” she said.
She said St. Vincent’s used to do a similar amount, if not slightly more, Christmas food boxes.
She said St. Vincent’s served a lot of families outside The Dalles, such as in south Wasco County and in Washington.
St. Vincent’s just reopened its food pantry — which has been closed since late July — on Tuesday, Dec. 9.
It will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., though there are hopes to extend the hours for those who work.
St Vincent’s is taking a handful of applications for food baskets this year — limited to families with children — and turning them over to Salvation Army, said Cindy, an employee at St. Vincent’s who asked that her last name not be used.
In addition to Christmas food baskets, The Salvation Army also works to provide gifts to the families who sign up.
It has 17 Angel Trees at locations throughout town, and each is adorned with tags listing a desired gift item from the families.
The Salvation Army checks the trees regularly to pick up purchased gifts.
All gifts are given unwrapped to the family so they can wrap them themselves.
The deadline for fulfilling gift wishes on the Angel trees is Dec. 19. The Christmas boxes will be available for families to pick up on Tuesday, Dec. 23.
Before that time, Harmon welcomed volunteers to help with everything from box packing to bell ringing at the red Salvation Army kettles are various locations in town.
Money from the kettles is used to purchase items for the food boxes and for gifts, Harmon said.
While Salvation Army gets free food from the government, it also buys food at a discount from the Oregon Food Bank.
Project ELFF is always a big shot in the arm for the Salvation Army and St. Vincent’s.
While the Salvation Army is getting all the food this year, it is typically split between the two.
“It’s a tremendous help, even when it’s split among two food banks,” Harmon said.
“Both of us benefit from it because it not only helps the Christmas food boxes it helps with January and February and March even, depending on how high demand is,” she said.
The food collected during Project ELFF first goes to a sorting station at Meadow Outdoor Advertising, then is stored at Salvation Army.
“We stuff food in every little corner,” said Major Kevin Ray of the Salvation Army.
“It’s a tiny little room, but we make it do. For a short period of time, we’re bursting at the seams.”
Project ELFF always nets a few oddities, such as frozen turkeys, games, toys, and once, a half carton of opened ice cream,” Harmon said.