|Crossroads Cupboard nourishes body and mind
FOR THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Each morning that the Cupboard is open, the shift manager welcomes the people waiting outside, allowing 12 at a time into the small lobby. People in need of food simply have to show up at the Cupboard during business hours they dont need to be referred by an agency or go through any pre-screening. As many as 80 people have visited the Cupboard in one two-hour day; the line outside is constant.
New clients go through intake, at which point they must provide photo ID and proof of address for each person they claim as part of their household. In order to stay stocked, the Cupboard limits each household, no matter how many people or families live there, to one visit per month. The intake volunteer also asks new clients about their income and utility costs, though the Cupboard does not verify those numbers. After clients check in, volunteer shoppers lead them along the stores three shelves, one volunteer for each client.
My favorite part of the two-hour shift is interacting with the other volunteers and clients, Cindy Letts said. She has been with the Cupboard for three and a half years, volunteering two days a week interviewing clients, logging them into the computer, helping them shop and sometimes restocking. I was widowed about eight months prior, Letts said of her start at the Cupboard, and needed to direct my energies to a positive source. There is such a need in our community to help each other as friends and neighbors.
This format builds a human connection, but its also important on a logistical level. Each section of shelving is labeled with how many of that particular food item a client may take. Dependent on donations, the stock changes regularly, as do the per-item limits, so volunteers are needed to serve as guides.
On the Cupboards second floor, where coolers and freezers chill produce, milk, juice and meat, volunteers fill boxes with food to eliminate lines forming in the small space. Clients may then look through the boxes outside, refusing any item they were given. The volunteers still try to connect with the clients by anticipating their needs before they arrive. They explained that older Russian couples usually show up early, so the volunteers prepare the first boxes with beef and not pork, which many of the Russians dont eat. Large families arrive later, so the volunteers save the gallons of milk till then.
The language barrier between the Cupboard volunteers, who only speak English, and the clients, some of whom only speak Russian, Spanish or an Asian language, is lessened by patience, forethought and a little bit of creativity. The food packaging usually includes pictures, so clients can study those to make more informed choices. The intake questions are available in multiple languages, and as the Cupboards volunteer director, Ardith Keathley, said, the Cupboard is not a government entity, which means there is less paperwork. Currently the Cupboard has flavored syrups in stock. Volunteer Louise Tatro said that when shes shopping with clients, she keeps a cup of coffee on a nearby shelf as a prop to help her explain the purpose of the syrups.
Donations come from individuals, organizations and businesses, or in the form of the occasional grant. Sometimes a large amount of one item is contributed, leading to new opportunities. Safeway, for example, contributes approximately 16 pallets of bread each week. In turn, the Cupboard often has too much bread to give away, so Keathley redistributes it in other low-income areas. Another company recently donated cases of marshmallow fluff an unusual item for a food bank; its also a treat for clients who could not usually prioritize such a luxury. Other times, Keathley trades excess items with another food bank, increasing variety at both places.
The Cupboard also receives for free or purchases food from the Oregon Food Bank, which redistributes food to other banks. OFB gives away items it has in excess; other food banks are allowed to collect these free items up to twice a week. Representatives from the Cupboard go to OFB once to pick up their weekly order and once just to scour the dock for the free items. On those latter days, Keathley tries to collect 2,000-3,000 pounds of product. She shops for any item the Cupboard is running low on or any item Keathley thinks they may run low on in the future.
The volunteers are stocking for the next day, but being director, Im stocking for weeks in advance, she said. When I stock I always think, If I run out of this item, what will I put here?
Keathley estimated that the Cupboard spends $0.65 to $0.75 per family per month. For November and December 2006, an average family might have taken home coffee creamer, two loaves of bread, a box of cereal, a bag of chips, a gallon of milk, a whole cake, boxed dinners, a pint of organic dairy, four individual yogurts, a pound of coffee, a box of chai, a jar of marshmallow fluff and one of peanut butter, two packages of meat, candy, frozen and fresh veggies, eight canned items, apples and potatoes.
Keathley became involved with the Cupboard about seven years ago after reading an article about volunteering that said, many organizations had funds but what they needed were the hands to do the work. Her husband, Bob, joined her and they started by shopping for food and setting up the computer programs volunteers use to register clients.
A year ago, Keathley stepped into the role of director when the previous director left for back surgery and couldnt say when, or if, shed be able to return. There were many people doing different things, but it was confusing, Keathley said of the time the Cupboard was between directors. When the other volunteers started coming to me and telling me they were going to quit because of the confusion, I thought Id try and see if I could do something.
Keathley, her husband, and two longtime volunteers, Tatro and her husband, Delbert, each volunteer on the Cupboard floor at least once a week, and for every day the Cupboard is open, the four spend the night before making sure the shelves are stocked, the floors are clean and the paperwork is done. Keathley said each day brings new developments and the only constant she knows as director is that she will be the one who fills in all the gaps...Things need to be done in order for the Cupboard to open, and we have to make sure it gets done.
As director of this small and busy service organization, Keathley soon found that the message of the article which had encouraged her to start volunteering years ago had taken on new meaning for her. Keathley explained, We have a lot of volunteers who say, Call me if you need help, and Ill say, well, as a matter of fact, this weekend we can use the help. And theyll tell me, Well, I cant this weekend.
Every volunteer organization faces challenges to its resources, including the time volunteers are able to commit. People are busy, people may prioritize volunteering low in their schedule and, as Keathley said, an organization can be just as variable as a volunteer: Its hard to convey to the volunteers that there is usually a plan for things, even if they dont see it. And sometimes the plan changes in mid-stream, according to situations. Still, the Cupboard has survived and even grown since Crossroads Church member Linda Hansen started it in 1980. The Cupboard continues to be supported by the church, though it does not have a religious component.
Most of our ministries start from the passion or the heart of an individual, Senior Minister Tom Burgess said, explaining that the church then supports the project in whatever ways it can. Church member Linda Schlechter recently led a donation drive for the Cupboard, during which the Crossroads Church raised 30,000 pounds of food and more than $4,000 in cash. The Cupboard became a focal point for the congregation because perhaps more than the churchs other ministries, the Cupboard fully speaks to the volunteers, Burgess explained its a tangible way for them to give back.
Linda Walters, whos volunteered once a week for five and a half years, said, Going to the Cupboard every Thursday is my highlight of the week. I love the people. They give me so much more than I give them.
Jeff Brink, who takes three buses each way to and from the Cupboard, volunteers for a simple and clear reason: Helping other people, thats all it is.
Keathley said that the Cupboard is always short on donations of personal care items, which are just as needed as food. When you cant buy food, how do you buy personal items? she explained. Donations are accepted at the Cupboard during business hours, or call to arrange for a different time.
2407 N.E. 102nd Ave., Portland
Thursdays and Fridays: 9-10:50 a.m.
Saturdays: 11 a.m.-12:50 p.m.
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