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Many hands make light work on delivery days at the Almanor Basin Food Pantry in Chester. New volunteers are always welcome. Photo by Gregg Scott

Compassion, confidentiality and caring keep food banks on the front lines of local need

With the COVID-19 novel coronavirus threat reaching even into small rural wilderness areas like Plumas County, four local community food banks here have not faltered a single step in their goals to distribute groceries, produce and perishables to people in need.

They also dispense a lot of hope and they’re hosting two drive-through food drives on April 9 and 16 specifically to up their game for the response to the virus alert.

“People never need to be embarrassed to come for help; our services are very confidential,” said Kitty Gay, longtime coordinator and volunteer for the Quincy Community Action Network (CAN) food bank.

Checking delivery items off her detailed clipboard list one morning as pallets of crisp vegetables, fruit, meats, eggs and a host of fresh groceries were unloaded from a Food Bank of Northern Nevada semi, Kitty watched as the crates, boxes and bags were shared among volunteer drivers with waiting pickups.

The local pantries in Chester, Greenville, Portola and Quincy offer direct programs at the neighborhood level.  All together, they distribute weekly grocery bags to well over a thousand individuals and families countywide per month. Sometimes many more than that.

Streamlined to meet needs

People receive their food vouchers from the Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center (PCIRC) in Quincy or the wellness centers in the other communities, Kitty noted, saying, “We don’t ask any questions, names, etc. at the pantry. And on the days when we offer commodities (things not needing refrigeration), people can simply walk in without a voucher, check in on the signup sheet and get what they need. We’re here to help people who need it.”

Not looking for praise, thanks

They say many hands make light work. Well, it also takes commitment, reliability and consistency to make everything come together in these food programs and it all happens thanks to a small army of dedicated volunteers who typically shun the spotlight and praise.

Most of them have been doing this volunteer work for years. Their communities count on them and the workers wouldn’t have it any other way.

During a recent visit to the Indian Valley Food Bank, several ladies and a couple of grandsons were smiling and greeting clients. Most of the volunteers have been there for years and they are proud to serve their community.

Another day, at the Quincy CAN location, one volunteer opened a large refrigerator to reveal loaves of bread neatly packed on every shelf.

“One day, I was walking downtown and young woman came up to me,” he recalled. “She knew I volunteered here and she approached me almost in tears. She said she had no food left to make lunches for her children for the rest of the week. I took her over here to the food bank and we gave her bread, peanut butter, some fruit and a few of other things to last the next few days. She couldn’t stop saying thank you. I never want to see that look in someone’s eyes again, that’s why I keep volunteering here.”

Local food insecurity

“Many people would be surprised to know there is a lot of food insecurity in this county,” said Johanna Downey, executive director of the PCIRC crisis intervention center, which oversees the food banks while each operates with a high degree of autonomy, including having their own boards of directors.

Interviewed for this story before the outbreak of COVID-19 surfaced, Downey added, “Many Americans are just one paycheck away from being homeless.”

Food banks across the nation are now reporting vastly increased demands for essential public food distributions in the wake of the pandemic — including some like the Feeding America organization with 92 percent more applicants this month alone.

Maintaining during COVID-19

Each of Plumas County’s food bank locations told Plumas News this week they are continuing to meet local needs in their communities and managing to maintain regular hours for clients to come by for their weekly brown paper bag of groceries. A family of 3 or more receives three paper bags filled with nutritious foodstuffs.

Volunteers from Chester to Greenville and Portola to Quincy expressed heartfelt thanks for the community support and appreciation they receive while serving their neighbors, friends and people in need.

There is no doubt the impact of the COVID-19 virus is affecting these communities and the food bank volunteers are getting creative to stay abreast of the demands.

Almanor Basin teamwork

Pam Mashburn serves as the president for Almanor Basin’s Food Bank board of directors out of Chester. She has high praise for her small group of dedicated volunteers and says they can always use a few spare hands, so call anytime.

“One of our volunteers is 88 years young and we have gently asked her to un-volunteer while this pandemic is going on,” Pam said. “But she won’t, so we’ve managed to get her to take a desk job for the duration and handle our phone calls instead!”

Pam wants the community to know that the food bank has switched to a drive-by delivery system for now. Clients are asked to drive up to the front walk and a volunteer will bring groceries to their auto so they can pull away without getting out.

“Before, people took a number and chatted in line,” Pam explained. “They’d come in, select their perishables, sit for a while and socialize. That’s all gone with this pandemic. We’re bagging up the same groceries for everyone and bringing them out to the cars until further notice.”

Indian Valley welcome mat

At the Indian Valley Food Pantry in Greenville, Debbie Cassol coordinates services with a regular group of friends and family members who report without fail every week to serve the community.

Each time the doors swing open, clients are greeted with smiles of welcome. When no one is looking, one volunteer tosses pieces of candy into each grocery bag and wishes everyone a great day.

Debbie said the pantry is doing well adhering to the health and safety requirements and social distancing.

“It’s important to follow the precautions and by God’s grace, we’ll get through this,” she commented. “In fact, with the health crisis, I’m sure even more people will need our services. It’s inevitable.”

Manager runs Portola EPCAN

Dink Rife has an unusually memorable name, especially because it’s practically synonymous with the Portola Eastern Plumas Community Action Network (EPCAN) Food Bank. She and Cathy Churchill volunteer with a diverse group that meets regularly to keep EPCAN running like a well-maintained locomotive.

The virus situation has directly impacted EPCAN’s usual cohort of volunteers because their entire group is over the age of 65 and staying safe at home during the statewide directive. Site manager Lisa Peiler is operating the food bank alone, sometimes with help from her son, so Dink and Cathy are putting out a call for any interested — read that younger, too — volunteers to help out.

“We want any clients to know they should definitely register for their vouchers at the Portola Family Resource Center and please keep coming by,” Cathy says. “We have food and perishables to meet our community needs, so be sure to come and see us.”

Social distance in Quincy

Kitty explained Quincy CAN is allowing two people at a time into the lobby area and if someone comes up for service and is showing any symptoms of illness, they are politely requested to wait outside and a volunteer will personally assist them.

“We would love to thank everyone in the community who is donating both food and money to CAN,” she added. “This community is so supportive! You just have to love them. Thank you everyone.”

Actually, it’s all of us who want to say a huge THANKS to all you, food bank angels.

Plumas County Drive-Through Food Drive

Two Thursdays this month

April 9 and 16

10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Plumas County and the City of Portola are coordinating the event. All donations will be distributed to local food banks for families and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

Please wash hands before donating, stay in your car until prompted and stay at home if you or anyone in your home are ill. No homemade, opened, damaged or expired items will be accepted.

Most needed are canned meats, beans, fruits and vegetables; bags or boxes of staples such as rice, potatoes, pasta, cereal and more; sauces in jars, peanut butter, cooking oils and spices.

Please drop off donations at these locations:

Chester Memorial Hall

225 Gay Street

Greenville Town Hall

120 Bidwell Street

Quincy Veterans Hall

274 Lawrence Street

Portola Veterans Hall

449 West Sierra Street

For local food bank services, visit or contact theses community locations.

Quincy CAN Food Bank

176 Lawrence Street

283-0262

Monday, Wednesday and Friday

10 a.m. to noon

Tuesday and Thursday

2 to 4 p.m.

Almanor Basin Food Pantry

386 Main Street, Chester

284-1304

First and Third Saturdays

10 a.m. to noon

Portola EPCAN Food Bank

120 Nevada Street

832-4570

Monday and Wednesday

9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Tuesday

12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Indian Valley Food Pantry

224 Mill Street, Greenville

284-6353

First and Third Fridays

10 a.m. to noon

Tuesday

12:30 to 2:30 p.m.

Suggested donations to help local crisis intervention services

While cash and food donations are always welcome at any area food bank, there are many items that pantries and the Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center (PCIRC) in Quincy do not routinely stock.

These types of donations are greatly appreciated and most are not covered for purchase with food stamps, according to PCIRC, yet they are sorely needed to serve people in need in our communities.

Imagine being a homeless client or person living in a motel with only a microwave for heating food and one can see why these donations are so helpful.

Other things like fresh new washcloths and bath towels that clients can use for showers at the crisis center are always welcome, too. Here’s a sample list to consider:

– Canned foods with pull-tops

– Travel can openers

– Microwave-safe dishes

– Food storage containers

– Heavy-duty plastic cutlery

– Paper towels, toilet paper

– Disinfectant wipes

– New socks

– Feminine hygiene products

– Toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss

– Shampoo, hand and body soap

– Unscented, environmentally friendly products

– Laundry detergent

– Buckets, brooms and mops

– Reusable shopping bags

– Plumas Transit tickets

– Gas, groceries or Dollar Tree gift cards

– Blankets, sleeping bags

– Tents, camping equipment

For more information, contact PCIRC at 283-5515 or visit  www.pcirc.com.

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