WARRENTON — A church-run food pantry that feeds an estimated 75 to 100 families each week will close at the end of July if organizers can’t find the money they need to keep the doors open.
The pantry, the only one in Warrenton open on a weekly basis, needs an estimated $200 a month to cover office costs and electrical bills associated with running several refrigerators and freezers.
Pastor Morris Guiendon, of Calvary Assembly of God, reached out to other churches in the area for help. On Monday, he heard back from Seaside Assembly of God with news that the church could provide some immediate assistance and, possibly, more regular aid.
If Guiendon is unable to find a solution in the community, representatives of the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank told him they will ensure the services the pantry provides continue in some way.
“This could be a positive thing as well, reaching out to the community,” Guiendon added, explaining that some of the people who use the pantry come from other congregations and communities. “Making more of a community effort to keep this thing running could become a positive thing for our community.”
Landing consistent money could prove difficult. The food pantry’s affiliation with a religious organization limits what kind of aid is available. Meanwhile, money the pantry received from the city in 2015 in the form of a social service grant through the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank has run out.
The city’s decision to give money to the food pantry in 2015 — $5,000 from the Warrenton Business Association, a city advisory board tasked with distributing business license income — was controversial. City leaders questioned the constitutionality of government directly providing funds to a church-run nonprofit and decided to pass the money through the regional food bank instead.
The grant helped the pantry stabilize operations. It paid the pantry’s bills and allowed managers to purchase extra food or items beyond what the pantry received as one of the regional food bank’s partner organizations.
Calvary Assembly of God subsidized the pantry when the grant money dwindled.
This arrangement became an issue after the church hired Guiendon as a dedicated pastor last year and struggled to cover his salary on top of the food pantry’s bills, said Meri Paddock, worship pastor at Calvary.
When Guiendon arrived, the congregation had dwindled to only nine people. It has since grown to 50 people, “but the money doesn’t flow immediately,” Guiendon said.
The food pantry is pretty much the only one of its kind in the city, said Dusten Martin, chief operations officer for the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank. Another church-run pantry is only open once a month.
If the pantry is struggling to make ends meet, Martin said he and food bank staff will ask: “What can we do that we haven’t already done?”
Martin is in conversation with Guiendon to understand the scope of the pantry’s needs. He didn’t want to speculate about the future of the pantry yet.
But, he said, “We’re not going to let people be out in the cold, high and dry. We’re going to make sure there’s a mechanism in place to serve folks.”
The food pantry distributes food once a week, and serves people in Warrenton, Hammond and the Sunset Beach area. It is staffed by just a few community volunteers — usually around four to six people — and provides a mix of fresh produce, dry goods and packaged food.
Tom Bonine and Shawna Denney, who co-manage the pantry, said it is important to be able to provide people with a variety of food options. Some of the people who come for food have no way of cooking or storing perishables and need items that are easily portable.
As Bonine and Denney worked to unload food out of the back of Denney’s pickup truck last week, they talked about the future of the pantry and the young families, elderly people and homeless who rely on the food.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen to the people here,” Denney said.