Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Despite recession, local food banks prosper

Pantry Shelf, one of Walla Walla’s food banks, sits in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church, across from the YWCA. On Wednesday afternoons, the first hour of business is reserved for elderly clients, and on Wednesday, April 7, it’s fairly slow. Only about two to three people sit on the benches in line to receive their food from the women in the back room. The person at the counter decides which kind of food he or she wants: for example, the women behind the counter offers either mac and cheese or ramen noodles: and afterwards, the person leaves with a bag.

This food bank, as well as other social services in Walla Walla, attempts to mitigate the effects of poverty on residents. And while some of their clients do come in due to the recession, the need for services like these existed before the previous economic downturn and will continue to exist afterward.

Gwyn Frasco, one of the women who sorts food in the back room of Pantry Shelf and who was on the board of the charity for 20 years, said that it was founded by a group of churches in the early 1970s. Prior to that, according to Frasco, there was not a food pantry in Walla Walla.

“The downtown churches were just getting people coming in after church asking for food, and so some of the churches had things on hand, and they decided to band together,” she said.

Pantry Shelf serves as a resource for people who cannot afford enough food otherwise.

“Most of the people who are here are either on social security or disability, or they work. So people just aren’t getting enough money,” said Pantry Shelf Director Kate Rambo.

Many of the people who use Pantry Shelf’s services found their way there using Helpline, a Walla Walla service that both runs social services and directs people to others.

“I went to Helpline to get a bus pass, because I only make $500 a month, and so I went to helpline to get a discounted bus pass,” said Kathie Wade, of the the clients of the food bank.

Wade works for the Golden Horse, a Walla Walla restaurant, but because of the poor economy, her hours have been drastically cut, from just over 30 hours a week to about 10. Helpline directed her to Pantry Shelf and suggested she apply for food stamps.

Wade considers Pantry Shelf one of the better food banks in Walla Walla, and suggested it to Janine Hill, who lost her job in August due to illness. Hill, who is currently applying for disability aid, worked for eight years in social services. This was Hill’s first time at Pantry Shelf.

“There is quite a bit of fraud and things like that in the bigger programs, and that’s why they put you through so much paperwork. Food banks and others aren’t looking to bust people for fraud. They want to help people and that’s the focus,” said Hill.

Smaller food banks, like Pantry Shelf, are often able to offer more personal service than larger facilities.

The Christian Aid Center, another social service provider in Walla Walla, also takes advantage of its small size and independence. The Center, which runs two shelter programs, one for homeless men and one for families, requires that men attend church services in order to use its programs. Because of this stipulation, it is not eligible for government aid and survives only on donations.

It has not seen a huge increase in demand because of the economy; Jason Wicklund, the director, speculates that food pantry services, which serve those who have not lost quite everything yet, have seen more of the impact from the economic downturn. In fact, he says, economic prosperity contributed to the increase in homelessness, particularly an increase in homeless families.

“Our increase started two or three years ago, when Walla Walla saw a big increase in market value for rentals. Once that housing boom hit here, a lot of the folks who [owned] low-income housing units . . . decided to change their fees to fair market value, because they could get higher rent,” said Wicklund.

The higher housing costs would have driven more low-income people into homeless shelters like the Christian Aid Center.

Neither Pantry Shelf nor the Christian Aid Center reported a decrease in donations. In fact, according to Frasco, Pantry Shelf has seen an increase in donations because the food share program, one of their major sources of food, has had some huge drives. While the economy may not be as strong, people are still willing to donate time and money to help those in need.

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