Amanda Weisbrod

For 50 years, one local organization has been providing vital community services and has largely gone without praise or recognition. But on April 25, it received a much deserved thanks.

Community Connection of Northeast Oregon was recognized for its outstanding service to Baker, Union and Wallowa counties by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) at his town hall in La Grande in late April. Merkley shook the hand of Audrey Smith, Union County manager and regional food bank manager for Community Connection, and presented her with a flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol.

“I’ve been with Community Connection now for two years, and I’ve learned it’s uniquely responsive to the needs of our community,” Smith said at the town hall. “We’re very happy to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, and I want to thank Sen. Merkley for honoring us.”

In a follow-up email, Merkley noted his reasoning for honoring Community Connection was due to the vast range of services it has provided for half a century.

“I congratulate Community Connection on their 50th anniversary, and was happy to honor them at the town hall,” Merkley wrote. “Countless Oregonians in this area have been helped thanks to their work over the last five decades. We need groups like Community Connection to continue providing essential resources to rural communities, and I am committed to being a strong federal partner by supporting the range of programs that enable them to do just that.”

Community Connection, with its seven locations and about 90 employees, strives to best “advocate for and assist senior citizens, children, low-income persons, and persons with disabilities in attaining basic human needs and in becoming more self-sufficient,” according to its mission statement. Margaret Davidson, Community Connection executive director, called the organization one of the community’s “best kept secrets.”

“I don’t think people have any idea of the array of services that we provide,” said Davidson, who has worked with Community Connection for 36 years. “They might know us for our senior programs, or the food bank or transportation, but what I’ve discovered over the years is that until someone needs our services themselves, or a family member needs our services, they really aren’t aware of what we do.”

• Community Connection’s 2018 annual report reveals just how much the organization does for the area:

• Local food pantries provided more than 12,000 food boxes to 30,500 individuals

• Emergency programs provided assistance to 367 people in 175 households to prevent eviction or to establish permanent housing

• Transportation programs provided 80,820 rides for senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and members of the public

• Summer Lunch Program served 5,698 free meals to youth ages 1-18 in La Grande

• Senior Meals Program served 45,000 meals to 1,098 adults older than 60

“Nearly 9,000 people in our region live in poverty — an alarming number,” the executive director wrote in a statement for the annual report. “Our needs assessment highlighted the lack of access to food and lack of access to affordable housing as the top barriers people face every day.”

In order to combat this problem, Smith said, Community Connection donates food to nearly every local food pantry and attempts to reach out to those in need. She said she’s very impressed with everything Community Connections is able to accomplish, and she hopes more people will seek out its services in the future.

“I try to go to the various town halls in the area, and I’ve seen other people be recognized for their work, and I definitely think Community Connection deserves the honor,” Smith said. “It tries to really fill a lot of different gaps in the community.”

For more information on specific services offered by Community Connection, visit www.ccno.org or call the administration office at 541-963-3186 and they can appropriately direct your call.

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