It was one of those cold, drizzly Saturdays that reminds you why they talk about “April showers” — even after the week of gorgeous, early summer weather we just had.
At 7 a.m., Lt. Chris Cohoon was just coming off shift with the Colton Rural Fire Protection District, when he hopped into the cab of a truck for Willamette Egg Farms in Canby, for whom he works as a driver.
Working at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, especially after an all-night shift at the firehouse, is not normally something to get excited about. But today would be different.
Cohoon wasn’t delivering eggs, dairy, produce and other products to restaurants, stores or warehouses. He and Willamette Operations Manager Dann Barnard were headed to The Canby Center, where volunteers were waiting to deliver hundreds of boxes of food straight into the hands of local families in need.
Most food-sharing programs in the state have seen increased demand this month, as the economic impacts from the COVID-related shutdowns have begun to take their toll. At The Canby Center, where the food pantry was once just one of more than a dozen programs and services it offered, usage has more than quadrupled.
So far, they’ve been able to meet that need, thanks to community support like this weekend’s donation from Willamette Egg.
The state’s largest commercial egg producer, which began as a small family farm outside Canby in 1934, and its parent companies, Michael Foods and Post Holdings, donated more than 65,000 pounds of food this week that went out to Molalla, Woodburn and Canby organizations.
The boxes were packed by employees and included contributions from various corporate holdings and links in a nationwide supply chain that has been seriously disrupted by the widespread shutdown of restaurants, cafeterias and other commercial kitchens.
Barnard told the Canby Now Podcast that the three local distributions this week were part of a coordinated, nationwide effort led by Michael Foods, which involved almost 40 communities and a total of 3 million pounds of food that would have otherwise gone to waste.
“It makes me happy to see our company care and give back,” Cohoon said. “It feels good to be able to help so many that are in need in such a weird period.”
As Michael Foods explained in a handout in each box that also contained recipes and nutritional information, the company is “fighting back with food.”
“We couldn’t be more proud of the support our employees have received from their friends, families and neighbors during this time of crisis and are very excited to feed the very people that will see us through,” the company said. “We hope this collection of food service products helps support your family during this difficult time and that we are able to enjoy them again – together – at our favorite restaurants very soon!”
Canby Area Chamber Director Kyle Lang said the generous donation allocated to The Canby Center — 15,000 pounds of food, or 300 boxes, each containing five dozen eggs from Willamette — was more than the nonprofit could distribute in a single day, even with the greatly increased demand.
“This effort required that The Canby Center beef up their capacity to hold refrigerated items,” Lang said, which came via a refrigerated truck loaned by Columbia Distributing and a storage container donated by the Canby First Responder Fund.
“It is a great example of how the community comes together, both local business, community not-for-profits, and local residents and volunteers,” Lang said. “It inspires hope for our community to see everyone doing their part as they can.”
The Harvest Share food program at The Canby Center used to see about 60 families a week. They served 99 on Tuesday alone, and another 162 on Saturday — a record.
The experience appeared to be almost as impactful for those assisting in the effort as it was for those in need.
“It’s humbling,” Todd Gary, retired division chief for Canby Fire, said. “Just to think of all the businesses and people that donate to The Canby Center to help those in need, so that we were able to pass out over 160 boxes to help families in this community.”
Not that they had much time to sit and reflect. Things were hopping, Gary admitted.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of cars that were lined up at any one time,” he said. “We were hustling to get boxes out to them.”
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, The Canby Center has quickly transformed itself over the past month, from a provider of a wide variety of employment, family and social services into an efficient machine for sharing food quickly, securely and safely.
Once a casual, “shopping-style” outreach, the center’s Harvest Share program is now a drive-up, minimal-contact experience that takes only a few minutes — once it’s your turn.
Cars form a line that stretches down SW 2nd Avenue and deep into the parking lot of Canby High School, now closed for the remainder of the academic year because of COVID-19.
Staff members and volunteers with The Canby Center, Canby Fire District and Canby Police load carts with food and wheel them up to the waiting vehicles. To further reduce contact, the recipients are asked to load the food themselves, unless they need assistance.
Once empty, the carts are cleaned, sanitized and loaded up for the next family.
Meanwhile, others scan bar codes, check people in, monitor wait times and do a thousand other little tasks the complicated operation requires. After the Willamette truck was there and unloaded, Cohoon said he mostly just tried to stay out of the way.
“They have it down, and I didn’t want to get in the way,” he said with a laugh. “It’s an amazing operation to watch.”
Photos by Chris Cohoon: