In the back of the Oregon Area Food Pantry, what used to be a near barren refrigerating and freezing unit is now abundant with food choices for patrons.
It seems in the blink of an eye, pantry-goers suddenly have more options available to them on the rest of the shelves too, managing director Diane Sliter said.
It’s because of increases to The Emergency Food Assistance Program, TEFAP, one of the many sources of food supplies for the pantry besides donations, she said.
TEFAP, a federal program that supplements the diets of low-income Americans, according to its website, aids pantries in purchasing food at no cost to the facility.
Sliter said OAFP, 107 N. Alpine Pkwy. received 1,042 pounds of food from TEFAP in September 2018. In February 2019, that number climbed to 2,053 pounds, Sliter said.
That is likely to keep increasing in coming years. The 2018 bill that supports TEFAP increased the program’s funding by $12 million, with $5 million increases planned annually from 2020-28, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Sliter said patrons “love” the new options they are able to choose from.
Inventory coordinator Kathy Kuehl said she observed a patron brought to tears by the new supply of food, and Sliter said the pantry is happy to offer more options.
“It’s their store,” Sliter told the Observer. “(For them) it’s like going to the grocery store.”
Kuehl and another OAFP inventory coordinator, Rosemary Birzer, are among the first to see what food supplies the pantry will receive every month from TEFAP.
The coordinators said pantry inventory staff has the option to select from a “request sheet” of USDA-purchased agricultural products, which include meats, vegetables, cereal, pasta and dairy products. Kuehl said they make the selection once a month based on how much space is available inside the pantry.
“We will shoot high and they are really good about looking at all of the needs,” she said.
There are also USDA “bonus” foods that are available based on how the market is doing, which include produce, juices and other products normally too expensive for pantries.
Where patrons browse inside the fridges especially, they are met with meat options like beef, chicken, turkey roast, pork chops and bacon.
On a shelf to the left of the meat is another addition — gallons of milk and fresh produce. Of the produce the pantry receives from TEFAP, Birzer said the pantry has acquired a lot of fruits like oranges, apples and grapefruits.
She said patrons have also been able to choose from a small assortment of vegetables, mainly potatoes and onions.
“This wasn’t a reality a few months ago,” Sliter said. “We would get vegetables from area growers in the fall.”
More than TEFAP
Though OAFP has been using TEFAP “for years,” Sliter said, she emphasized it’s not just the funding increases that have made the pantry better for its patrons.
It’s the patrons themselves, a combination of food sources, community involvement, a new building, a growing number of volunteers and a recent expansion to weekly hours that make OAFP function as well as it does, she said.
Birzer and Kuehl emphasized the same.
OAFP supplements what it can’t get from TEFAP with food from Second Harvest, Sliter said, which is a food bank in southern Wisconsin. The pantry also receives supplies from the Community Action Coalition and from a few Oregon businesses.
And because of TEFAP surpluses, Birzer said patrons have even more of a say in what they would like pantry staff to purchase from local grocery stores like Bill’s Food Center – the funds are available to buy more of what patrons request.
Donations remain the top way the pantry fills its shelves, Kuehl said.
“The community is unbelievably generous,” Birzer said.