As joblessness has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents of Benton County have faced hardships including a lack of income, loss of resources, and homelessness.
In 2020, the unemployment rate in Corvallis spiked to above 10%, with major job losses due to the closures of restaurants, bars, and event spaces. With this enormous spike in unemployment, families with limited to no incomes have struggled to feed themselves. Thankfully, Benton and surrounding counties had already developed a safety net of food banks and food shares to serve the community when times are tough.
While local businesses have also struggled during the pandemic, partnerships between caterers, markets, and the food pantries are strong, which has bolstered all parties involved while allowing services to continue for families who are in need.
The Stone Soup kitchen in South Corvallis served over 31,000 meals in 2019, and undoubtedly served more in 2020 as people weathered the pandemic.
“Stone Soup Corvallis is a very local organization with local volunteers,” said organization President Sara Ingle, who remains thankful to both food partnerships and the hundreds of volunteers who make their services possible. While Stone Soup is no longer allowing guests into the kitchen and now only offering meals to-go to abide by public health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the organization is serving hot meals at multiple locations throughout Corvallis multiple days a week.
Stone Soup partners with Trader Joe’s, the local McDonalds, and Good Samaritan Hospital to collect unused or unwanted food. When they do purchase food, they have purchased from Van Vleet Meat in Albany since the start of the pandemic to support a local business.
The owner of Tacovore, John Huyck, has also been donating 40 pounds of chicken each week to Stone Soup since last summer. Local catering company Forks & Corks has been cooking and delivering the meals to the South Corvallis Stone Soup location since December.
Sharing a location and building with Stone Soup Corvallis is the South Corvallis Food Bank.
Part of the Linn Benton Food Share, the Food Bank has been operating since 2001 and is providing families with over 15,000 pounds of food per month.
“Lots of places donate to us,” Katherine Edwards, Manager of the Food Bank, said.
Edwards noted that partnerships with organizations like the Corvallis Environmental Center’s Sage Garden and with the local Produce for the People’s community garden have resulted in hundreds of pounds of donated produce each year. In addition, the Linn Benton Food Share network has a food rescue program called the Fresh Alliance, which regularly visits local grocery stores to collect unwanted food and produce that can still be used in boxes and meals for people who need support.
When asked about how the needs of the community the South Corvallis Food Bank serves has changed within the past year, Edwards said, “It’s interesting, I suspect the need has increased but we’ve actually seen fewer people come in.”
Reflecting that maybe this is due to families receiving stimulus checks, or perhaps being afraid of contact with people during the COVID pandemic, Edwards pointed out that a family of 4 typically receives over 50 pounds of food per box. This can be crucial for a family struggling to feed children, parents, or themselves.
While many aspects of daily life have changed in the last year, partnerships between food banks and kitchens with local businesses have kept this network of meal services strong for the Benton County community that needs it.
“A big thing we’re needing right now,” Edwards said, “is awareness that we’re still here, regardless of the pandemic.”
How to Help
If you are interested in supporting the businesses and groups who are doing this good work, please click on the links spread throughout this article.
If you are in need of food or meal assistance, or if you would like to volunteer at any of the organizations included in this article, you can visit these websites to see meal schedules and volunteer opportunities: