At the heart of downtown Battle Ground, North County Community Food Bank is abuzz with volunteers five days a week. Packing over 900 food boxes a month, the food bank continues its mission to provide healthy food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and other assistance to those in need.
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 U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities. They are the largest purchaser of food in Clark County according to their website.
Executive Director Elizabeth Cerveny strives to provide fresh produce and quality food in each box while following USDA nutritional guidelines.
“We target a healthier food box,” Cerveny said. “Many of our clients have health issues. That’s my driver to get produce in the box.”
Fresh produce and other healthy foods are expensive, however, and costs are expected to rise. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, food costs will increase by 5.8% in 2023. The USDA expects prices will continue to climb in 2024, with a predicted growth of 2.2%.
“The cost of food items alone is skyrocketing,” Cerveny said.
With rising costs and other economic challenges, North County Community Food Bank has seen a major 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 Darin McClure said 45 to 50 clients visit the food bank each day. The food bank’s end-of-month report for September 2023 showed it served 90,123 pounds of food to clients.
The increase in clients and rising expenses have challenged North County Community Food Bank. Higher prices and a lack of volunteers have made providing boxes difficult, according to McClure.
“The other food banks have a lot going on. They’re overwhelmed too,” McClure said. “Right now, we have just enough volunteers to make this work.”
Fresh produce remains a priority at North County Community Food Bank. To supplement produce donations, the food bank also buys fresh fruits and vegetables. The food bank spends up to $2,000 a week to purchase additional produce to supplement their boxes, Cerveny said.
“We buy fresh vegetables and fruits from Apple Foods in Portland,” Darin McClure said.
The amount of produce available to the food bank varies during the year. During the summer and fall harvests, many local farms and gardens provide the food bank with fresh produce. Independent growers with an excess of fruits and vegetables, often from their back yards, bring donations.
The Lewis River Rotary Club has overseen a community garden, which has provided the food bank with an abundance of produce this year. Many of their deliveries brought 200 to 300 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, McClure said.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to get good stuff, especially during harvest,” McClure said.
Though North County Community Food Bank wishes to provide everyone with fresh and healthy food, McClure understands that some clients receiving boxes may not have enough time to prepare a healthy meal from scratch. Staples like low-sodium canned goods and dry pasta with tomato sauce are often included in the boxes for an easy but healthy meal option.
Clients interested in learning new cooking methods to prepare healthy meals from the food in their boxes may seek classes through North County Community Food Bank. In partnership with Adventist Community Services Food Pantry and Battle Ground Health Care, the 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 detergents 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.
Though in high demand and always welcome, hygiene items and detergents are rarely donated. Many of the clients visiting the food bank may be unable to afford such costly items.
“These are some of the most expensive items on the shelf,” McClure said.
Cerveny believes participation at the food bank, whether volunteering or donating, is an excellent way to give back to the community and form connections.
“People come to us in tears,” Cerveny said. “All the volunteers have a caring focus. We’re a resource for whatever their needs are.”
North County Community Food Bank is open from 9 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and 1:30 to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, 17 NE Third Ave. in Battle Ground. It also offers curbside drive-thru services. Clients may obtain two food boxes a month. For additional information, visit the website, nccfoodbank.org, or call 1-360-687-5007.