SEASIDE — Every Thursday, a long line forms in the parking lot of the Seaside Factory Outlet Center. The people are not in line for a sale – they are waiting for trucks from the Clatsop Community Action Regional Food Bank to arrive with thousands of pounds of fresh produce.

The faces are young and old. As Dusten Martin, operations manager for the food bank says, “Poverty doesn’t discriminate.”

For two hours they come and go, picking out bags of potatoes and onions, lettuce and even prunes, receiving, on average, 20 pounds of various fruits and vegetables.

The mobile produce pantry, part of the Food Bank Fresh program, which works to raise awareness about healthy eating, provides low-income households throughout Clatsop County with a weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Primarily what we’re trying to do is get people away from boxes and cans and into fruits and vegetables,” said Marlin Martin director of the regional food bank, based in Astoria.

The program, which began operating in Seaside and Astoria in April and will continue through September, was Marlin Martin’s brainchild. The program’s goal is to complement the allowed once monthly visit to area food pantries as well as grocery assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, or SNAP.

“When you go (to the food pantry), you can get a three- to five-day supply of food one day per month,” Marlin Martin said. “It really is to supplement your other food budgets…. We thought if a client can only go there once per month, they certainly can’t get enough fruits and vegetables to really do the job we want it to do from a health impact for that client.”

Every week, the organization sets up the mobile pantries from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays in a parking lot in the 200 block of West Marine Drive in Astoria and from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays in the outlet mall in Seaside.

The Seaside site serves residents of Seaside, Cannon Beach, Gearhart, Elsie and Jewell. However, as with the Astoria site, it is open to anyone who lives in Clatsop County.

So far, after four weeks of operation, Marlin Martin said the program is a success. The mobile food pantries have distributed a total of 10,921 pounds of food to 1,457 individuals.

In Seaside, during the three weeks the program has been running, 4,082 pounds of food have been distributed to 528 individuals.

CCA Regional Food Bank uses the federal SNAP guidelines to determine eligibility for the program. The maximum monthly household income for eligibility is $1,679 for one person and adds $555 per person in the household. For example, eligibility for a family of two allows for a household income of up to $2,268 while a family of four can have total household income up to $3,446.

Norm McLaren, manager of the South County Food Bank, a CCA Regional Food Bank partner organization, said the new mobile food pantry program is an important addition.

“What the Regional is doing is fabulous as far as getting food out to the people who need it,” McLaren said. “Fresh food is always better than frozen or canned.”

The South County Food Bank does what it can to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables, including making excess available to clients every Friday, but McLaren said the organization isn’t able to distribute the amount the regional food bank can distribute.

He said he has regularly been sending people who come through his food pantry to the regional food bank’s mobile pantry.

“I think it’s very important, for health reasons, that people get fresh fruits and vegetables,” McLaren said, adding that he hopes the program can continue.

Dusten Martin said the program was born out of necessity. The regional food bank has seen the availability of canned and boxed foods go down while the availability of fresh foods has increased.

Since many of the local food pantries do not have the ability to handle and distribute the fresh food as easily as the regional food bank does, the program was a natural fit.

“It was kind of a silver lining of being short on food; maybe we can get people to eat healthier and maybe have a little healthier lifestyle, too,” Dusten Martin said.

The organization has also been getting creative about growing and packing its own food, he said. Behind the food bank in Warrenton, a small apple orchard has been planted, and they hope to cultivate 3,000 pounds of carrots this year.

The group is also the beneficiary of fish bycatch and illegally harvested animals received by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Thanks to a license that allows them to package meat, the CCA Regional Food Bank distributed 40,000 pounds of fresh fish and meat to low-income residents in the county last year.

In addition to offering the mobile food pantry, and the Food Bank Fresh program, the CCA Regional Food Bank distributes, as a partner agency of the Oregon Food Bank, food to food pantries, men’s and women’s shelters and food backup programs throughout the county. Last year, the organization served more than 46,000 individuals – a number that includes repeat visits by the same person.

“Going to a food pantry is not like going to a supermarket,” Marlin Martin said. “For a lot of people, it’s embarrassing, it’s humbling. It’s not a fun trip – it’s a trip of necessity.

“So we’re going to treat them with all the respect and dignity they deserve, and we’re going to try to make it a cheerful trip just because we think they deserve that.”

To find out more about the CCA Regional Food Bank, how to donate, or how to become a beneficiary visit, or call 503-325-1400.