Clatsop Community Action will be able to accept more donations, feed more peopleEven though his organization runs on donations, Clatsop Community Action Executive Director Dwayne McQuilliams said he's had to turn down some donated food.

It's not because there's no need for extra food in Clatsop County - he estimates about one fifth of the county's population has had to turn to the nonprofit - it's because the organization just didn't have the storage space for it.

In fact, the space crunch was so bad the organization was turning down 15 percent to 20 percent of the food that could have been available to Clatsop County's hungry, he said.

But now, thanks to a deal between the city of Astoria and the nonprofit group, McQuilliams estimates Clatsop Community Action should be able to give nearly twice as much food as in the past.

The group is finalizing a lease with the city to take over a warehouse that once housed the Darigold farm store at 250 21st St. near the old train station. McQuilliams said after some moderate renovations to a portion of the building, food should be in the warehouse by the middle of December.

This will mean that instead of 29 pounds of food available per eligible person per year, 79 pounds will be available. Last year, the organization distributed a total of 529,108 pounds.

"It's going to have a tremendous effect," McQuilliams said of the warehouse's impact on food distribution in Clatsop County.

Once a month, a truck from the Oregon Food Bank arrives at the Pacific Power building in Warrenton where food is unloaded at the utility company's loading dock. From there trucks take it to Clatsop Community Action's six "pantries" where it is stored for use at the organization's meal sites.

McQuilliams said those pantries hardly hold enough food for the month and often go empty, even though the organization has to turn down donations when the pantries are full. "Usually by the third week they're out of food," he said.

The new warehouse, however, will give the service the elbow room to store more food than a month's supply and take almost any donation when it comes along.

"I can now say, 'You have something for me? You bet I'll take it,'" he said. "That's how we're going to see more food, our ability to say 'yes.'"

Located in an area of the east Astoria Urban Renewal District zoned primarily for new hotels, Clatsop Community Action only has the building on a year-to-year basis.

City Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum, who also serves as Astoria's property manager, said having Clatsop Community Action in the building is better for the city than if the place just sat vacant.

"A vacant building is always a liability. People break in or there might be a fire. It's just typically a problem," he said.

The nonprofit group will likely pay something "pretty nominal" for the building, Mitchum said, such as $1 a year or month for the warehouse, and provide insurance. He is confident a lease agreement won't be a sticky issue.

"I'm sure we can work that out, we just need to put the terms down on paper," he said.

Once the lease is finalized and approved by the Astoria City Council, Mitchum said Clatsop Community Action can start moving into the warehouse.

McQuilliams said before food can be stored there, two-thirds of the building must be sealed off from the storage area Clatsop Community Action plans to use. Then he needs to get electricity to the building, add a bathroom and deal with a minor rodent problem.

He said a warehouse specialist from the Oregon Food Bank inspected the building and found the number of rats is nothing worse than at any other food warehouse.

While McQuilliams is pleased with the prospect of having the temporary storage, he said he wishes Clatsop Community Action could have a permanent home.

He said his vision would be to open a "one-stop shop" where all the county's nonprofit groups could operate together. This could be done, he said, in another former Darigold building downtown on Duane and 9th streets.

But that would be up to the county to decide, and now McQuilliams said he is just glad to have the temporary warehouse.

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