The Power of Community
Written by Shawna Holland, Oregon State University Extension Service Family & Community Health
Photo L to R: Crook County on The Move, Carol Benkosky; Our Savior’s Lutheran Church & Crook County On The Move, Kristi Hiaasen; SNAP-Ed, Shawna Holland; Crook County ODHS Self Sufficiency Staff
On December 1, 2022, a meeting was held with OSU Extension SNAP-Ed, Crook County on The Move (CCOTM), Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (OSLC), and Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS). It was reported by ODHS Self Sufficiency Manager, Kris Vandeweghe-Ross, there was a “gap in services” when clients apply for SNAP benefits. It was reported ODHS is frequently unable to issue SNAP benefits for different reasons, including when income is just above the qualifying limits. Vandeweghe-Ross states the declined benefits do not diminish the need for these families. When clients are denied benefits, ODHS has NO IMMEDIATE RESOURCES to assist families at this stressful time.
Local food pantries have limited hours, and Vandeweghe-Ross stated, “I would really like to be able to give them some food, right then and there.” Vandeweghe-Ross believes offering immediate food assistance with shelf stable foods would provide relief, deescalate clients, and show empathy while educating clients on local food distribution locations.
Vandeweghe-Ross also reported significant concerns for clients who will soon have their benefits reduced drastically due to federal Emergency Allotments (EA) ending in March 2023. On average, families face a 40% reduction in benefits, as the price of food and housing continues to rise in Central Oregon.
Oregon Department of Human Services
Crook County on the Move
Oregon State University SNAP-Ed
Our Saviors Lutheran Church
St. Vincent de Paul
Timeline of Action
Short Term Solution: OSLC immediately diverts 30 leftover COVID relief emergency food bags to ODHS for speedy distribution to clients in need.
Four weeks later, on February 15th, ODHS reports they are down to 2 Emergency Food bags and in need of more.
OSLC utilizes grant funds to purchase and fill 4 additional emergency food bags for ODHS.
St. Vincent de Paul of Crook County is contacted. An account is established on behalf of ODHS. CCOTM and OSLC volunteers pick up food from SVdP, assemble the food bags and distribute to ODHS. OSLC and CCOTM uses funds available to purchase proteins to add to food bags for additional nutrition and alignment with MyPlate.
OSU Extension SNAP-Ed, OSLC, CCOTM, and St. Vincent de Paul establish a process for delivering emergency food bags to ODHS prior to March of 2023 when SNAP EA benefits ended, just as a new crisis was anticipated to ensue.
ODHS reported emergency food bags have significantly improved their ability to serve clients in a way that aligns with the agency’s mission, “To help Oregonians in their own communities achieve well-being and independence through opportunities that protect, empower, respect choice and preserve dignity.”
Vandeweghe-Ross reports the emergency food bags have been a vital resource provided to Crook County ODHS SNAP clients.
Vandeweghe-Ross states having Emergency Food Bags at ODHS have “bridged a devastating gap” for SNAP recipients. When people do not qualify for SNAP benefits (or qualify for an insufficient amount to feed their family), people panic. “They come here (ODHS) for help and assistance. Not everyone qualifies for assistance, and the emergency food bags have provided help while clients learn how to access local food distribution sites.”
It should be noted, between February and March of 2023 Crook County’s largest food distribution center, St. Vincent de Paul, experienced a 35% increase in families served, and a 56% increase for individuals served.
105 shelf stable emergency food bags were provided to ODHS for distribution to clients between December 2022 and April 2023. This number will continue to rise.
The process for emergency food bags for ODHS clients is sustainable on its own due to the collaboration between community partners.
Partners continue to plan ways to provide healthy food bags to clients who are houseless and without resources to heat and prepare foods.
Food Hero Monthlies and Food Hero Recipes are included in Food Hero reusable bags to assist families on preparing and safely storing foods.
“Clients are extremely grateful, and my staff is able to provide immediate relief to families under significant stress from not knowing how they will feed their families.”
“The food boxes have deescalated clients who are stressed and unsure how to access other resources for food when they are turned down for SNAP benefits.”