Rural communities in Lane County face real challenges when it comes to accessing food.
Many small towns are considered food deserts. They provide residents little or no choice of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers. Transportation to and from Eugene or Springfield – for employment or groceries – may not be available or may be too expensive. Employment opportunities are fewer than in the urban areas.
For these reasons and more, rural emergency food pantries play a critical role in filling the meal gap and stretching limited food dollars for households with limited incomes.
Vickie Bradwisch manages the Oakridge Food Pantry. She and her volunteers provide food boxes for Oakridge, Westfir and the surrounding area. The pantry is one of 34 food pantries and 150 programs that partner with FFLC to distribute food to Lane County residents experiencing hunger.
“We get folks from all over,” said Vickie. “Fire fighters in the summer. Homeless folks. A lot of people around here just don’t have enough. It’s hard. They’re just trying to stretch the buck and make it through the month. It’s financial, and it’s not looking any better.”
During fire season, her clients may stay home rather than brave the heat and the smoke.
“Employment’s really rare up here. Most people have to commute to town. It makes it really difficult. There’s no bus running on the weekends to the valley. We have Diamond Express during the week only. So that makes it tough for people working on the weekends. There’s no transportation. My husband commutes to the valley every day. That adds up.”
There is a Ray’s grocery store in Oakridge, and not much else.
“Now we also have a Dollar General but they don’t carry everything. They take SNAP and that really helps the community.”
Why does she do what she does?
“I enjoy it. I enjoy feeding people. They’re hungry, and serving the public is fun. And myself, I used to get food boxes and I felt like I had to help out.”
by Denise Wendt
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