By Olivia Nieto
During COVID, NeighborImpact, Central Oregon’s regional bank, was at a strenuous peak, distributing over four million pounds of food across the region—nearly double than their annual two-and-a-half-million pounds.
Located in Redmond, the 2,000-square-foot warehouse could barely handle the influx, and the program was forced to rent more space to meet the demand.
“Right now, we simply don’t have the physical capacity to bring in and distribute more,” says Food Program Director Carly Auten.
As NeighborImpact proudly states on its website, “(our) mission is to support people and strengthen communities.” This is a standard that they have been successfully upholding, and this expansion is only one example of it.
The Food Bank dispenses food through Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson Counties, as well as the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Representing square mileage close to the equivalent of the state of New Jersey.
Pre-COVID, the staff had already started noticing changes in how their food distribution program functioned, which was when they started thinking about how they would react to these changes.
“60% of what we bring in is fresh produce…the original warehouse was built for more shelf-stable food, so we already knew we were eventually going to outgrow the space,” said Auten.
With this realization came the recognition of other challenging factors affecting the families they provided food for, such as inflation, affordable housing, and living wages. When the pandemic hit, the seed idea of building a new warehouse sprang into full bloom.
“Before COVID, we had discussed a bigger building…and then COVID happened, and it became a high-priority action item. We saw the writing on the wall and realized this demand was not going to go down,” Auten continued.
The Food Bank has received a little over $4.5 million out of its $5 million donation goal, with $200,000 left to raise. Once this quota is met, NeighborImpact plans about a year of construction beginning in September 2023, with hopes to open in September of 2024.
The expansion will include a 7,000-square-foot augmentation, an improved loading dock, indoor coolers and freezers, and a community space.
“We’ll just have a lot more space to receive and distribute the food needed in Central Oregon.”
NeighborImpact had a big goal, to raise $5 million, to complete this project – rising construction costs, and other issues have caused some challenges along the way as well. They have received a large portion of funds from COVID-19 relief dollars allocated by Deschutes County, private donations, and others. The Sisters, OR based Roundhouse Foundation was one of these contributors, granting $250,000 to the cause.
“The Roundhouse Foundation has really supported the Food Bank over the course of many years,” states Auten. “They’ve aided in our being able to hire mobile pantry coordinators…they’ve just helped on an ongoing basis.”
NeighborImpact was able to break ground in late January and hosted a group of over 100 people to celebrate. Tribal leader Johnson Bill of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs was welcomed onto the grounds to perform a prayer song which will bring blessings to the land and the food that was to be provided to people.
Auten adds that, “My real goal is to work myself out of my job because there is no need for my job… but that’ll take a lot of work…in the meantime, I absolutely want to be able to feed people so they can take care of their families and their jobs.”
This addition to the Central Oregon region will allow the non-profit organization to meet its goals of supporting individuals in its community with intentionality.
Photos courtesy of NeighborImpact
Olivia Nieto is a freshman at Sisters High School. She recently became a freelance writer and has been composing articles for the local Nugget Newspaper. Olivia enjoys playing saxophone in High School band and running Cross Country.