The South County Community Food Bank is expected to reopen Tuesday, less than two weeks after the former manager and volunteers were ordered to relinquish their keys and locked out of the Roosevelt Drive building.
Board President Darren Gooch said “ideological differences between the board and key volunteers” guided the decision to interrupt service.
“We as a board are tasked with being good stewards of the resources we are given,” Gooch said. “Future sustainability of the food pantry is the primary driving force of the board.”
Former regional manager Karla Gann blamed the closure on board mismanagement and said it could jeopardize holiday meals and leave thousands of dollars in Christmas gifts undelivered.
Gann, an unpaid volunteer, had served since 2013.
On Tuesday, Gooch declined to address specifics of the incident.
“Anytime that people choose to part ways, there will always be some fallout, and we anticipated that,” Gooch said. “It’s never easy to sever a relationship with people and our silence about it was out of respect for those parties. To me, it’s not something that should be shared in the media.”
Gooch and other members of the board said there would be no gaps in service to clients. During the temporary closure, patrons may use food banks in Gearhart and Cannon Beach. Any perishable items were used for meals at Helping Hands Re-entry Program in Seaside.
More than 90 percent of the pantry’s regular clientele had already been served for the month of October, leaving less than 10 percent to have to turn to one of the area’s other three pantries for their food boxes, Gooch said.
Changes at the food bank will come in terms of hours, items offered to clients and special Christmas boxes with food and gifts.
Boxes delivered in years past will no longer be offered, he said, as they require additional donations of food and money.
Gooch said it could be “heartbreaking” for those left out if distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
The new service model among food pantries is to add holiday items to every client’s regular food box for the months of November and December, Gooch said.
“It’s a much more equitable way to ensure that everybody who walks through our doors gets a holiday meal,” he said.
The board plans to eliminate a clothing and household goods aisle, which is considered outside of the mission of providing money or products that “go directly to someone’s dinner table.”
The food bank’s primary mission is to provide a three- to five-day supply of emergency food to members of the community in need, he added.
The food bank will reopen on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m., a reduction from two hours of service four days a week. Volunteers and board members will staff the facility as needed, Gooch said.
Meanwhile, residents and supporters of the food bank offered a variety of responses to the management shift. “You owe our community an explanation,” Seaside resident and food bank donor Christina Buck said in an email to board members. “If there are problems at the food bank, why did it come to a point where it is so bad it forces a closure? … Your actions do not just affect those in need, but also those who choose to give by volunteering, donating and supporting this organization.”
Volunteer and patron Jennifer Barrett said she was “madder than hell.”
Board members don’t have a finger on the “pulse of the poor,” she said.
“I have enjoyed so much what Karla (Gann) has done,” Barrett said. “There are needy among us that are what we call the deserving poor. Maybe I am naïve, but I am one of the deserving poor and it’s been a tough road to hoe.”
Seaside’s Sylvia Herrley, whose father Harry Miller volunteered as manager of the food bank for 25 years, said attempts should have been made to fix problems before the decision to remove Gann was made.
“It was a huge slap in the face to all the hardworking volunteers of the food bank,” Herrley said in a letter to The Daily Astorian. “I have no doubt Ms. Gann is correct when she says 90 percent of the staff will not be back. My heart breaks not only for the people who need help, but all the volunteers who can no longer help them.’”
Seaside’s Nadine Brien regretted that the board and Gann could not come to agreement. “I am sorry this happened, and wish something could have been worked out so that the community would still benefit from her management,” Brien said in a letter.
Call for civility
Seaside Mayor Jay Barber weighed in with a call for civility and trust for the board. “I know the people who are in leadership of the board of directors,” Barber said. “These are leaders in our community who have given generously of their time and resources to bring the food bank to the place it is today. I have confidence in them and firmly believe that their decisions over the past week were made with careful thought and deliberation.”
Barber also asked the community to take a measured response.
“Let’s step back, take a deep breath and support our food bank as they continue to serve our region as they have for many years and many years to come,” Barber said.