Three times a week, a line of chairs along the wall at the Community Connection meal site in Enterprise fills. They are not all seniors; there is no checking of IDs or forms to complete.
What they have in common is they need a break on their grocery bills.
At 11 a.m., the double doors open into the conference room and the past-pull-date food donated by Safeway through the Fresh Alliance program is distributed. Most days folks in the line get one meat item and one bread item. Occasionally, greens are included.
Fresh Alliance is also offered at the Wallowa Senior Meal site on Wednesday and Friday.
It’s one of several nutrition services available through Community Connection and supported by food drives and special events organized by service clubs, agencies and individuals in the county. Other services include the Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and meals served in the dining rooms in Wallowa and Enterprise. Many of these meals are sponsored by local businesses and individuals.
The meals are served at the two sites are also available to people of any age. Seniors 60 and over and their spouses may pay the suggested price of $3.50, those younger are asked to pay $5.75 per meal. The dining event is often the high point of the day for folks who rarely get out or who are primary caregivers and now get to eat a meal cooked and served by someone else.
In October the two meal sites served 1,129 individuals older than 60 and 106 younger with 136 volunteers.
An additional 589 were served through Meals on Wheels.
The services are a boon to many on a fixed income, either a member of the 28 percent of Wallowa Countians who are seniors, the estimated 800 individuals in the county (of all ages) who are veterans or the disabled. The aid is also welcomed by the severely rent burdened; the low-income workforce; and folks temporarily short of funds.
The number of individuals in need has grown dramatically since the 2008 recession, with Oregon Food Bank reporting a 41 percent increase in need for food-box distribution statewide.
In October, Wallowa County’s food bank served 76 families with 156 family members.
Although the Oregon Food Bank provides many of the food products offered by the local food bank, area residents are generous as well. Fresh garden vegetables and ground beef are occasionally donated.
“We’ve had several local ranchers donate a cow,” said Community Connection County Manager Connie Guentert, “Many other local groups donate. The ‘Fill the Fire Truck’ event is our biggest food drive of the year. It gets us through the rough months of November, December and January.”
The “Fill the Fire Truck” event is this weekend county wide. In 2016 $8,000 was raised for the food bank.
Every October both Les Schwab Tire Center and Oregon FFA also sponsor the “Drive Away Hunger” food drive to help stock the Food Bank. Approximately 1,500 pounds of food is donated.
A friendly competition between the Rotary Club of Wallowa County and the Soroptimists each year generates several thousand dollars for the program. Rotarians have been filling red plastic cups with spare change, as well as writing checks in a bid to outdo the competition.
Community Bank matches the donations 50 cents on the dollar up to $500 per branch.
The Wallowa Resources Free Thanksgiving Dinner is also hosted at the Community Connection kitchen and dining room in Enterprise each year. Private sponsors associated with Wallowa Resources anonymously arrange the feast. This year the dinner will be served 1-3 p.m. Nov. 23.