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Carolyn Pfeaster has served as the Community Connection of Northeast Oregon local office’s head for 27 years. She said Community Connection formed in 1969 and has offices in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties serving needs from transportation to food to connecting people to county, state and federal services. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
For some community members, making a mark comes so naturally that it appears effortless. Community Connection of Enterprise, under the leadership of Carolyn Pfeaster, received an Oregon State Extension Service Award this spring for their years of commitment to Wallowa County.
Pfeaster said she was unable to attend the awards ceremony at Oregon State University, so she and her colleagues were presented with the award before a senior lunch in the Community Connection dining hall last month.
“I didn’t even know the agency was being nominated,” Pfeaster said.
Pfeaster has served as the local office’s head for 27 years. She said Community Connection of Northeast Oregon formed in 1969 and has offices in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties serving the needs of the community from transportation to food to connecting people to county, state and federal services.
Community Connection’s collaboration with the OSU Extension Service began in 1995 when the Wallowa County Health Department, Safe Harbors, Head Start, OSU Extension Service and Community Connection agreed to search together for a permanent building site. Community Connection secured much of the funding for the project including a grant from Meyer Memorial Trust and a federal Community Block Grant.
“Everybody had a piece of the pie to get these buildings,” Pfeaster said.
Construction of three buildings, owned by the county, was completed in 1996. The new facilities were a boon to how Community Connection reaches out to the community.
Pfeaster said Community Connection’s office was previously in the EM&M Building on Main Street, but they made senior meals at the IOOF Hall in Wallowa and drove them to the Joseph Community Center. Now the senior dining hall is onsite, as is a food pantry.
Having the dining hall and food pantry onsite has opened doors to people, especially seniors, who may not have ventured in for advice about their other services. Pfeaster said the senior nutrition program gives people the opportunity to interact with others. Community Connection provides rides for many who wouldn’t be able to travel to the dining hall on their own.
“Interaction with other people is as important as a nutritious meal. We like to get people out and about,” Pfeaster said.
Ann Bloom of the Extension office said in 2005, OSU began partnering with Community Connection for educational programming to low-income citizens who rely on the food bank for assistance. Nutrition education for food bank clients consists of twice-monthly recipe preparation and food tastings during the hours the food bank is open for food box distribution.
Community Connection collaborates with the Extension Service by providing the staples used for the recipes and placing newsletters and recipes, provided by the Extension Service, in the food boxes. Wallowa County has two food banks, one in Enterprise and one in Wallowa.
The presence of the Extension Service at both sites has been well-received by clients, volunteers and staff, Bloom said. Often, clients will return and say they prepared the recipe sampled the previous week and comment on how much their family enjoyed it, especially their children.
Since nutrition education programming began eight years ago, more than 1,100 individuals have been served through more than 200 individual education sessions by the Extension Service.
Bloom said the need for emergency food assistance has more than tripled over the past few years. Last year, almost 6,000 emergency food boxes were distributed to families and individuals compared to approximately 1,900 in 2011.
Another valuable partnership opportunity is each February when the Extension Service conducts a food drive with many of the local 4-H clubs.
Bloom said the 4-H members learn about the services Community Connection offers, sort food, stock shelves and realize how many people in their community need help.
Community Connection also supports Meals on Wheels, a service where volunteers deliver meals to shut-ins.
The addition of the Wallowa Senior Center has helped expand the organization’s ability to provide nutritious meals to more members of the community.
Pfeaster said of her work with Community Connection, “It’s been amazing. I’ve worked with some great people and met some amazing seniors. It is a really rewarding job. Hopefully, I’ve touched a few lives.”