Redmond — Despite oppressive, dark clouds and freezing mist that left trees covered in white and the parking lot slick as oil, the volunteers worked with smiles as hundreds of cars lined up to receive Thanksgiving supplies on Nov. 17 at Redmond High School.
From the moment the NeighborImpact Mobile Food Pantry opened its service at 3 p.m. until it closed at 4:30 p.m., cars wrapped around the parking lot to receive Thanksgiving supplies including turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, canned green beans, pumpkin puree and rolls. All were offered at no cost.
According to Jordan Reeher, program specialist at NeighborImpact, the showing was nearly double what they expected — especially with the ice and cold.
“This is our busiest location,” Reeher said. “And I think this is our busiest day yet.”
The volunteers bundled against the freezing air worked ceaselessly to load boxes of food and ingredients into the long line of cars and trucks, with many of the drivers leaving with smiles on their faces and a thank-you light on their lips.
“I’ve always liked volunteering but there’s something about the holidays,” said Lisa Stewart, a first-time volunteer with NeighborImpact whose family lives in Minnesota. “Not having family is one thing, but not having food is a whole other thing.”
According to Stewart, the last person to come through the line had looked at her checking account and found they didn’t have enough money for food — much less Thanksgiving. She was shaking and crying and desperately needed it. Being able to help her, Stewart said, made her realize the impact.
“(It’s) simple but wonderful,” she said.
Kara Haeussler, volunteer coordination specialist for NeighborImpact, said Central Oregon has been facing extreme food scarcity for a long time and, according to a press release from NeighborImpact, the organization has already distributed 2,400 Thanksgiving meals this year.
Half of the meals were funded through Safeway and Albertsons Turkey Bucks program while the other half were bought by the Oregon Food Bank.
“With inflation greatly affecting the cost of groceries, it’s no surprise that many families are struggling to get meals on the table,” said Carly Sanders, the NeighborImpact food bank director, in the release. “This distribution will enable families to celebrate the holiday without the barrier of a price tag.”
Garth Brown, who also coordinates volunteers, said demand for food is up about 20 percent from last year and that they are on pace to distribute four million pounds of food this year. About half of that food comes in the form of produce and vegetables.
The organization’s food bank, he said, feeds approximately 52,000 people per month.
“(NeighborImpact is) a small group of people and it’s a good group of people,” he said.
“The holidays are the holidays,” said Charmaine Roberts, who volunteered on Thursday. “When times are tough, anything you can do to brighten the holidays is even more special.”
Roberts, a former paralegal who has been volunteering with NeighborImpact since January 2020, said her life philosophy is to try to share resources, knowledge and power with others and do it in a way that protects people’s dignity. NeighborImpact, she said, fits perfectly into her philosophy.
She’s stayed with the program, she said, because it was fun and it felt like she was doing something good — putting good energy into the universe.
“It’s such a good program and it’s such a needed program,” Roberts said.
And, with many of the same people coming through week after week and month after month, Roberts has come close to many of those who participate in the program. She emphasized that while some may be embarrassed, there should be no shame in needing help.
“It’s our duty to each other,” she said. “Anything you can do to help people still enjoy the holiday dinner and not break the bank is pretty cool.”
Additionally, NeighborImpact is looking to soon break ground on a new food distribution warehouse that will be about four times the size of the current warehouse. Currently, they can’t bring in all the food they’re allotted because they don’t have enough space for it.
According to Brown, the fridge and freezer are too small for the needs of the community and staff are forced to work harder than they need to with the current warehouse.
The organization is looking for donations for the new warehouse, which is slotted to open in approximately June 2024.
For those looking to get involved this holiday season, NeighborImpact has a list of volunteer opportunities on its website.