CAN delivers loads of food to Community Connection

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer October 26, 2012 02:50 pm

Thursday’s drop-off of corporate donations sets stage for group’s Nov. 3 food drive when volunteers will staff collection points all day at supermarkets, city hall and library

It happens every year, right about now. One chilly afternoon, pickup trucks loaded to the gunnels with food and household goods stream into the parking lot at the Union County Senior Center. Then a passel of community-minded men and women wearing heavy coats against the weather get busy unloading. 

The stuff in the trucks, non-perishable food and items like toothpaste, toilet paper and diapers, will be stored away by the social service agency Community Connection and later distributed to the area’s needy, through food banks. 

Community Action Network, the group behind this annual effort, is busy again.

Thursday, the pickups dropped off donations from corporate sponsors including Anderson-Perry and Associates, Banner Bank, Boise Cascade, Employees of Grande Ronde Hospital, Hancock Forest Management, Legacy Auto Group, Les Schwab Tires, Mountain Valley Therapy, Oregon Trail Electric and Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Eastern Oregon.

It’s the spirit of giving at work. In the parking lot, Shawn Tritchka and Wendy Roberts told an onlooker about the hospital employee group’s Operation Giveback, a friendly competition among teams to raise food and money. Tritchka said the operation kicked off this month and continues to Nov. 19.

“Today we’re bringing food we’ve just collected, and cash, too,” she said. Roberts told how the team that raises the most gets a trophy called “The Golden Gobbler.”

“Made of real gold?” the onlooker wanted to know.

“Well, it’s shiny,” Roberts replied with a laugh. The Gobbler is but a portion of the winnings. The Operation Giveback champs also get to go to the head of the chow line during a celebratory dinner.

Thursday’s drop-off was the prelude to CAN’s Nov. 3 community-wide food drive, during which volunteers will staff collection points all day at Walmart, Safeway and Grocery Outlet. There are also collection points at La Grande City Hall and Cook Memorial Library.

CAN’s goal this year is a lofty one, said Jeff Puckett of Banner Bank.

“I’m very appreciative of the community at large for coming together to help us with our goal to bring in 25 to 30 tons of food to help fill the shelves of all Union County’s food banks,” Puckett said.

The corporate sponsors each agreed to contribute $1,000 or the equivalent amount of food. Puckett said people in the community who would like to contribute money to this year’s campaign should send their donations to United Way of Eastern Oregon, PO Box 862, La Grande 97850, attn: CAN Food Drive, or call Puckett at 541-786-0801.

Community Connection, which oversees food banks in Union, Wallowa, Baker and Grant counties, is seeing a 7 percent increase in requests for food assistance this year, but donations are down 18 percent, said Carmen Gentry, Community Connection’s Union County manager. 

That amounts to about 260,000 fewer pounds of food, due largely to a drop in availability of government commodities and how much food is available through the Oregon Food Bank, Gentry said.