The Columbia Gorge Food Bank, a transitional program of the Oregon Food Bank, will soon open in The Dalles to provide supplies for communities in Wasco, Hood River and Sherman counties.

The Oregon Food Bank began to serve these communities two years ago, when local need surpassed what the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council could handle.

Without a local facility, services were dependent on the roads being passable between Portland and the drop-sites at Polehn Farms in The Dalles and FISH Food Bank in Hood River.

When the snowy weather last winter and the fires this past summer prevented trucks from reaching communities in need, Sharon Thornberry, rural communities liaison for the new food bank, could clearly see that Gorge communities needed a local place to store food and coordinate services.

With a local facility now established at 3610 Crates Way, Thornberry said, “we can make sure that we’re not food insecure in those times of most need.”

The food bank receives donations from grocery stores, farmers and food drives. They also receive USDA commodities and food industry donations as a benefit of being a member of the Oregon Food Bank network.

The program currently serves 17 regional hunger-relief partners at 23 different sites, providing services to an approximate total of 3,300 people each month.

The Oregon Food Bank distributed over 722,000 pounds of product, including food, beverages and household goods, in the Gorge last year (a 25 percent increase from the year before) and Thornberry is confident that distribution will increase with a local facility.

“I believe we will exceed a million pounds in the following year,” she said.

The facility on port property has been a work in progress. The warehouse, which Thornberry described as an “empty box” when she first acquired the property in August, is now packed with pallets of seeds, stored blankets and a cooler to store donated food.

The adjacent office space contains a couple of desks and an area to safely process incoming food donations.

Though relatively small, the space, when paired with a grant from Providence, will allow the food bank’s staff to expand current programs.

One such program is the School Pantry, which serves hungry students and their families.

Columbia Gorge food bank has plans to add more pantries in Dufur, The Dalles, Chenowith and Wahtonka schools. Food bank staff also intend to provide school pantries to a few other rural communities.

The food bank will also expand Harvest Share, a produce distribution program that works with farms across the nation and the Oregon Child Development Coalition to provide communities with healthy produce year-round.

Food bank staff will formally open the facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 19 that will feature remarks from the chief executive officer of the Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Sen. Chuck Thompson and representatives from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s offices.

In tandem with the ceremony, food bank staff will host an open house to give volunteers, representatives from partner agencies and the general community the chance to tour the facility, ask questions and enjoy refreshments.

Everyone is invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony at 12:15 p.m. and the open house, which will run from noon to 4 p.m. on Tuesday at the new site.

For more information on food services and pantry locations, call 211 or go to the Oregon Food Bank’s Food Finder at www.oregonfoodbank.org/find-help/find-food.

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