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Clackamas Service Center adapts to fill hungry bellies during pandemic

As the demand for food assistance grows, the supply of food donation is dwindling, says Clackamas Service Center’s executive director.

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. — The KGW Great Food Drive is in its first week. This year, it is more important than ever. The hunger rate is at its worst point in a century, according to the CEO of the Oregon Food Bank.

Before the pandemic sent a ripple effect of hunger through the community, Clackamas Service Center was there, and they’ve continued to adapt to fill hungry bellies.

“Being part of the Great Food Drive is huge for us,” said executive director Debra Mason. “Supply chains have been horribly strained because of the pandemic and so access to food, for everyone, is hard. For us, it’s hard too.”

Feeding neighbors in need with dignity and fellowship is their mission.

“We’ve always been in the hunger business, fighting food insecurity,” Mason said. “It’s a really important basic need that we need to fill.”

Pre-pandemic, Clackamas Service Center held congregate meals for the community members they served six days a week. They also had a market where community members could shop on a weekly basis for as much food as they needed to feed their families.

Not only that, the organization offers people in need a place to shower, on-site medical care through a partnership with Outside In, and a place to get their mail.

“We’re people’s addresses if you don’t have one,” Mason said.

Oregon State University estimates that hunger has nearly doubled during the pandemic. That makes the mission of Clackamas Service Center all the more vital, but it’s also forced them to adapt operations.

RELATED: Oregon Food Bank CEO says hunger rate is at worst point in a century

“Food insecurity has always been bad, but because of the pandemic it has increased,” Mason said.

Persevering to help the community is what Clackamas Service Center volunteers are all about. In 2017, a fire kept them out of their building for 14 months. So, they served people in their parking lot. Fast forward to March of 2020, they met the crisis of the pandemic head-on.

“This was not our first crisis,” Mason said.

Clackamas Service Center staff brought mealtime outdoors and turned their market into a delivery service nearly overnight.

“It was daunting, but I tell you what, we have an amazing staff here. My team is just phenomenal,” Mason said.

“We have an awesome group of volunteers who come here with their personal cars and we pack up groceries and deliver them to homes,” she said.  

There is only so much Clackamas Service Center can do to adapt. As the need has grown, Mason said it’s hard for supply to keep up with demand. They need the community to step up, to donate so they can continue their mission.

“It’s been incredibly important to have these kinds of drives. This kind of support,” Mason said. “So, the KGW Great Food Drive is going to make a big difference.”

CLICK HERE to learn more and donate to the KGW Great Food Drive.

RELATED: Join the KGW Great Food Drive