As a volunteer for Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries, Donna Fuhrman oversees food supplies at the food bank, located at the back of Valley Fellowship Church. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Donna Fuhrman runs food bank for local ministry
Donna Fuhrman has every right to sit at home, eat bonbons and watch soaps on television.
Like many 77 year olds, she has health issues — in her case a bad back. Her husband, Lowell, 80, is on oxygen 24 hours a day.
Fuhrman will have none of it.
Volunteering for Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries, running its food bank, being involved in a community of like-minded souls, keeps her and Lowell’s motor running. It gives her energy. It keeps her mind percolating.
As she walks through the food bank, located at the back of Valley Fellowship Church, 507 Palmer Ave., she checks out the supplies. Piles of tuna, peanut butter, cereal, pasta, beans and rice line the walls.
Farther back, there are shelves of boxes packed and ready to give out — each with three to five days of food in them. Many refrigerators and freezers contain more food.
Outside, it’s the typical dog days of August — 90 degrees and sunny. Inside, it’s probably 75.
“We need to be no more than 70 in here,” she said. “It sure would be nice to have air conditioning.”
She’s not worried about herself, mind you. She’s worried about the food.
Despite the heat, she labors on. It’s a labor of love.
“Last week we ran out of all meat and frozen vegetables,” she said. “Most of it is from Walmart and the Oregon Food Bank. It was kind of scary. But the Lord always provides for us. Someone will kill an elk and deer and donate it. Or the ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) will call with meat to donate.”
Fuhrman has been a Neighbor mainstay since the program started 29 years ago. A receptionist at the First Presbyterian Church, she was recruited by Stephen Kliewer, one of the originators of the program. The program started to help keep seniors in their own homes and out of nursing homes.
“It started out there and just mushroomed,” she said.
A five-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation got Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries started. Now many local churches are involved in keeping it a vital concern.
Since 1984, Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries has expanded with a food bank, firewood for low incomes, seniors and the disabled, and free dinners for the community on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The program also provides, as funds are available, temporary housing, one-time help with utilities and rental assistance.
The job is demanding. It used to be Fuhrman’s phone would ring at 2 and 4 in the morning with people in desperate need of help. Now she’s cut back to a more manageable five hours a day. She mostly runs the program out of her own home, taking calls, doing the paperwork, paying the bills.
With the economy in the doldrums, and no end in sight, lots of folks need help. Fuhrman tries to make the food bank a welcoming environment where people can receive help without getting indigestion from swallowing their pride.
In the old days, the food bank would give out 25 to 50 books and think they were really doing something. Today, thanks to the Great Recession, that number has grown to nearly 200.
The food pantry is open the last Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. At the July 27 food pantry, 425 people (including 173 children) were served, with 189 boxes of food given out. Thirty-one boxes were delivered to people who are shut ins.
The need continues to grow. The food bank, with 29 volunteers and 197 volunteer hours in July, signs up about 10 new families each month.
Fuhrman is just happy she’s never had to get help herself. She grew up the daughter of a grocer and there was always plenty of food for the family. Her dad provided a model for helping those in need.
“I feel fortunate that I can help people,” Fuhrman said. “It’s not always been peaches and cream, but I never had to get help.”
As she and her husband raised their five children — they also have 18 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren — times were occasionally difficult. But they survived. Thrived. Helped themselves by helping others.
Now, in their golden years, when many people their age are getting less rather than more involved, the Fuhrmans are happy to get the helper’s high.
Fuhrman just wishes more younger people would get involved and help carry on worthwhile programs like Neighbor to Neighbor. The need is not going away.
She said there are many untold stories of people and businesses in the community who step up to help those in need.
“But they would kill me if I told you their names,” she said.
Still, Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries wouldn’t survive if not for people stepping up with volunteer time and funding and donations of food and firewood.
“I feel blessed that I have met so many people who care about other people,” Fuhrman said. “This is like one of my kids. I have to protect it. I’ve been doing it for so long and am grateful for all the help from the other volunteers. I couldn’t do it without them.”