Cheasanee Hetherington / For the Spotlight
In the heart of downtown Battle Ground, the North County Community Food Bank is bustling with volunteers five days a week. Packing over 900 boxes of food per month, the food bank continues its mission to provide healthy food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and other assistance to those in need.
The North County Community Food Bank, established in 1980, is an affiliate of the Clark County Food Bank and one of the only local distributors of USDA commodities. They are the largest food buyer in Clark County according to their website.
Executive Director Elizabeth Cerveny strives to ensure fresh produce and quality food in every box while following USDA nutritional guidelines.
“We’re moving towards a healthier food box,” Cerveni said. “Many of our customers have health problems. This is my driver to pick up the products in the box.
However, fresh produce and other healthy foods are expensive and costs are expected to rise. According to the USDA’s Office of Economic Research, food costs will increase by 5.8% in 2023. The USDA expects prices to continue rising in 2024 with a projected increase of 2.2%.
“The price of food alone is skyrocketing,” Cerveni said.
With rising costs and other economic challenges, the North County Community Food Bank has seen a significant increase in clients. Two years ago, the food bank was packing 450 boxes a month. This year they are packing 900 to 1000 boxes per month.
Program Coordinator Darrin McClure said 45 to 50 clients visit the food bank each day. The food bank’s month-end report for September 2023 shows it served 90,123 pounds of food to clients.
Increasing customer numbers and rising costs have put the North County Community Food Bank in question. Higher prices and a lack of volunteers make it difficult to provide boxes, according to McClure.
“Fromher food banks have a lot going on. They are also overwhelmed,” McClure said. “Right now we have enough volunteers to make this work.”
Fresh produce remains a priority at the North County Community Food Bank. To supplement the produce donations, the food bank also buys fresh fruits and vegetables. The food bank spends up to $2,000 a week buying extra produce to replenish its boxes, Serveni said.
“We buy fresh vegetables and fruit from Apple Foods in Portland,” Darrin McClure said.
The amount of products available at the food bank varies throughout the year. During the summer and fall harvest, many local farms and gardens provide the food bank with fresh produce. Independent growers with surplus fruit and vegetables, often from their backyards, bring donations.
The Lewis River Rotary Club runs a community garden that provided the food bank with an abundance of produce this year. Many of their deliveries yielded 200 to 300 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, McClure said.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to get good stuff, especially during harvest,” McClure said.
Although the North County Community Food Bank wants to provide everyone with fresh, healthy food, McClure understands that some customers who receive boxes may not have enough time to prepare a healthy meal from scratch. Staple foods like low-sodium canned goods and dry pasta with tomato sauce are often included in boxes for an easy but healthy meal option.
Customers interested in learning new cooking methods to create healthy meals from the food in their cans can look for courses through the Community Food Bank of North County. In partnership with Adventist Community Services Food Pantry and Battle Ground Health Care, available programs include Healthy Cooking for Life, Celebrity Chef and Kids in the Kitchen, Living with Diabetes and Seed to Supper.
In addition to food, the North County Community Food Bank also provides hygiene items and laundry detergent when available. Laundry detergent, soaps, shampoos, conditioners and feminine products can be included in food boxes upon request. Toilet paper is in high demand, McClure said.
Although in high demand and always welcome, hygiene items and detergents are rarely donated. Many of the customers visiting the food bank may not be able to afford such expensive items.
“These are some of the most expensive products on the shelf,” McClure said.
Serveni believes that getting involved with the food bank, whether it’s volunteering or donating, is an excellent way to give back to the community and make connections.
“People come to us in tears,” Serveni said. “All volunteers have a caring focus. We are a resource for whatever their needs are.”
North County Community Food Bank is open 9am to 11:15am and 1:30pm to 3:15pm Monday through Friday, 17 NE Third Ave. in Battle Ground. It also offers curbside drive-thru services. Customers can receive two boxes of food per month. For more information, visit nccfoodbank.org or call 1-360-687-5007.