November 22 - When a local lumber mill closed in 1982, forcing dozens of families into an economic crisis, caring Cottage Grove residents founded the Community Sharing Program. Today, the program serves over 5,500 individuals who rely on Community Sharing to help them meet their basic needs. In addition to the goods and services it provides to people, Community Sharing also offers opportunities to participate in rewarding volunteer work in its food pantry, office and community garden. More than 70 volunteers help keep the organization running smoothly year-round.
“Community Sharing has contracts with Lane County to provide energy, housing and basic needs assistance. We're also a FOOD For Lane County pantry, all of which has a lot of oversight and multiple programs. The challenges between the differences of the programs — it's actually really a challenging job sometimes,” said Mike Fleck, Community Sharing's executive director since 2011.
FOOD For Lane County is a nonprofit food bank dedicated to reducing hunger accomplished by soliciting, collecting, rescuing, growing, preparing and packaging food for distribution through a network of more than 150 partner agencies and distribution sites. It serves a diverse population of people living on limited incomes, including children, families, seniors and single adults with an adequate supply of wholesome, nutritious food.
Although FOOD for Lane County is a generous source for Community Sharing's inventory, according to Fleck, it's vital to go through other avenues.
“We receive USDA and local donations, produce in the summer when folks have more in their garden than they can use, or we have a green bag program where folks will buy an extra can and then every two months they'll bring those in to us,” he said.
Fleck outlined other sources where donations are collected: “Postal workers will be doing a food drive here soon. The Boy Scouts typically do one, the school district with the help of South Lane Fire and Rescue does another. So, we're just so blessed to have a whole lot of support from many sectors of the community, as far as food goes and the financial donations as well, which helps support all of our programs.”
By way of programs like Feeding America and Fresh Alliance that work on engaging with more local grocers to feed hungry people, Fleck notes that mass grocery stores can give Community Sharing Program their dated products.
“We pick up from Safeway five days a week and Walmart three days a week, a substantial amount of food donations and we're so appreciative,” he said.
And with products that are not covered by SNAP, like toiletries and hygiene items, places like Grocery Outlet step in to offer discounted items to the program. Community Sharing also accepts donations for used clothing and shoes, housewares, paper products, diapers, wood for heating (seasonal), as well as offering free bus passes or gas vouchers for transportation to out-of-town job interviews and medical appointments. Other offerings include: laundry, showers, propane, tarps, blankets and sleeping bags when available.
“Grocery Outlet also typically gives us pallet loads of donations, as well as huge discounts when we purchase items, such as our holiday food box items, turkeys, chickens, all of the fixings that go into our food holiday food boxes. They give us a huge discount when we're purchasing those. So really, all three of our grocery stores are just wonderful partners. We appreciate them so much,” Fleck said.
The holiday food box distribution comes at a time when food pantries see a spike in demand. Community Sharing will have two giveaways this season.
“This year, [the holiday food box distribution] will be on Dec. 20 at Community Sharing. This will be the second year we're going to do the distribution out of our agency. And Tree of Joy, our other [holiday gift giving] program, will be operating out of Trinity Lutheran Church on Dec. 21,” Fleck said.
Both events will run from 1 to 6 p.m.
Fleck has also recently run successfully for a seat on the Cottage Grove City Council, a position he’s held for 16 years.
“It's been an honor to serve the community and I want to thank the voters for their continued support,” he said. “I think one of my big strengths is that really, I understand local government and how it works. I've been involved in it for such a long time.”
Through his commitment to Cottage Grove, Fleck wants to reassure the community that, through constructive conversation and action, more can be accomplished for citizens in need.
“I'm glad to be able to offer my support and help to the council. I feel blessed to have the support of the citizens and I certainly would love feedback, I offer this all the time. My phone number is 541-942-7302. I welcome calls whether folks agree with me or disagree with me; it's my job to listen.”
For more information, including donation and volunteer opportunities, visit communitysharing.org, call 541-942-2176 or email [email protected] communitysharing.org.