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Columbia Pacific CCO invests more than $260,000 to fight food insecurity, promote healthy eating and support local food producers

Jun 1, 2022, 07:00 AM

SEASIDE, Oregon – Today, Columbia Pacific CCO announced investing $260,912 in grants to community organizations working to fight food insecurity, promote healthy eating and support farmers and other local producers in Northwest Oregon.

The grants aim to provide relief to Northwest Oregon residents and the organizations that support them.

“Demand for assistance is on the increase again,” said Ellen Kujak of the Tillamook Food Bank. “We have no slow times any more at our weekly pantry. The rising cost of food and gas pinches people who are just on the edge of making it.”

Today, anecdotal evidence suggests that Northwest Oregon and other parts of the country are in the midst of a new surge in food insecurity. Food bank officials say recent sharp increases in the price of groceries, gas and other essentials are making it harder for many in our communities to make ends meet.

“We’ve heard directly from our members over the years that food insecurity is a challenge to staying healthy for them and their families. With the recent increase in food insecurity, we’ve doubled down on our efforts to address the problem and other pressing needs in our region,” said Columbia Pacific Executive Director Mimi Haley.

“We’ve also had a longtime focus on encouraging healthy eating habits,” she added. “Our grants support community efforts to promote healthy eating in a variety of ways – whether improving access to locally grown fruits and vegetables or teaching kids how to prepare nutritious foods using fresh produce.”

Columbia Pacific’s priorities are guided by what’s important to its members and the broader communities it serves, which is why addressing food insecurity and promoting healthy eating have been key focus areas ever since the completion of its first five-year Regional Health Improvement Plan, which spanned 2014-2019.

Grants include:

  • $127,231 to help Clatsop Community Action (CCA) buy a new refrigerated delivery truck for its regional food bank, part of the Oregon Food Bank Network.

    The regional food bank supplies low-cost food to more than a dozen independently operated pantries in Clatsop County. It also runs a mobile produce pantry, providing fresh fruits and vegetables directly to individuals in need every Thursday in Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside. Visit CCA’s website to learn more about the events.

    “The new truck is essential for us to continue doing our work uninterrupted,” said Executive Director Viviana Matthews. “Food insecurity,” she added, “continues to be a huge issue in Clatsop County. We’ve seen an increase in the number of people coming to our mobile pantries because of the increase in food prices” and emptier store shelves because of supply-chain problems.

  • $40,000 to Food Roots, a nonprofit that’s working to grow a robust and equitable food system in Tillamook County through community engagement, education, food-producer support and improved access to local food. The grant is helping Food Roots expand its staff, bolstering its ability to develop relationships with community groups, particularly those serving Latino families. In August 2021, Food Roots hired a full-time Programs Manager, Carol Parks. Parks, who is bilingual and Latina, has been working to raise awareness of Food Roots’ equity programming and create new partnerships.

    This spring, for instance, Food Roots – together with the Northwest Regional Education Service District (NWRESD) – launched a four-week Bounty Box initiative, which includes providing culturally specific food items to children and families served by NWRESD’s Migrant Education Program. An added benefit of the initiative is that those receiving meal boxes (worth $30 each) are becoming more familiar with Food Roots programs, including its local store and online marketplace selling “harvest-to-order” goods from local farmers and producers.

    “Our work wouldn’t be possible without our community partners,” said Executive Director Lauren Sorg. “We’re building on those relationships and working to understand gaps in our current programming, where engagement among Latino families may be low,” she added.

  • $25,000 to Tillamook Food Bank, an Oregon Food Bank partner, to buy a walk-in cooler and a walk-in freezer. With the installation of the new cooler, the food bank now has room to store its entire weekly allotment of fresh foods from the Oregon Food Bank. The new cooler is also used to store donations of fresh, local produce. The new freezer is slated to be installed by year’s end.

    Between 2020 and 2021, the Tillamook Food Bank served more than 46,300 individuals, or nearly 15,000 households. At its weekly drive-through pantry, it provides each client with a free, 30-pound box of nonperishable food and, depending on availability, fresh dairy products and frozen items. That’s enough food to feed a family of four for up to five days, says Ellen Kujak, who co- manages the food bank and is president of its board.

  • $15,000 to the Columbia Pacific Food Bank, the regional food bank for Columbia County. Over the past year, the food bank, part of the Oregon Food Bank Network, has used the grant funds to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. The nonprofit, run almost entirely by volunteers, distributes food to six pantries and 35 different community programs, including meal programs and backpack programs providing free groceries for weekends and school breaks to students and their families. In 2021, it distributed 1.5 million pounds of food.

    “All food banks rely on shelf-stable food, but it’s not necessarily the most- nutritious and healthy option. So, there’s been a big push to not only provide food, but healthy, nutritious food and to teach people how to prepare it,” said Executive Director Alex Tardif.

In addition to the grants above, Columbia Pacific provided $23,181 to support weekend backpack programs during the 2020-2021 school year. The programs played a pivotal role in addressing food insecurity when schools closed during the pandemic, cutting off many students from free and reduced-priced school meals. At Columbia Pacific’s request, its parent company, CareOregon, also provided $30,500 in COVID-19 relief to support organizations in Northwest Oregon working to fight food insecurity. Many of Columbia Pacific’s community partners faced revenue shortfalls resulting from increased demand, canceled fundraisers and other pandemic-induced challenges.

To learn more about how Columbia Pacific worked to address community needs during earlier stages of the pandemic, read its 2020-2021 Report to the Community.

About Columbia Pacific CCO

Columbia Pacific CCO is proud to serve more than 33,000 Oregon Health Plan members living in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties. As a nonprofit coordinated care organization (CCO), we provide physical, dental and mental health care through a growing network of healthcare providers. Our priorities are guided by our local board of directors, community advisory councils and clinical advisory panel, and are informed by extensive community engagement. Columbia Pacific is committed to promoting the health of all those in our region. We focus on increasing access to language services, offering treatment for those experiencing substance use disorders, and fostering connections that promote social health.

About CareOregon

For more than 25 years, CareOregon has offered health services and community benefit programs to Oregon Health Plan members. Today, we support the needs of just over 500,000 Oregonians through three coordinated care organizations, a Medicare Advantage plan, a tribal care coordination program, a dental care organization, and in- home medical care with Housecall Providers. CareOregon members have access to integrated physical, dental and mental health care, and substance use treatment. We believe that good health requires more than clinics and hospitals, so we also connect members to housing, fresh food, education and transportation services. CareOregon is a mission-driven, community-based nonprofit with offices in Portland, Medford and Seaside, Oregon.

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