Neighbors Together Food Bank in La Grande News

Neighbors Together Food Bank - La Grande, Oregon, Union CountyA great article about Neighbors Together, what we do, how we go about it and our purpose in Union County and the surrounding communities.

New community service organization filling a void

By Dick Mason / The La Grande Observer / @lgoMason

Gary Bieberdorf, a La Grande Food Bank volunteer, has yet to see it happen in 10 years. And he doubts he ever will.

Bieberdorf is often the first one to arrive at the La Grande Food Bank on mornings when he and other volunteers distribute food to the less fortunate. Bieberdorf drives in at least two hours before the food bank opens and is never alone.

“It is a social thing. We are like a family,’’ said Bieberdorf, who added he does not think he will ever arrive early at the food bank and find that nobody is waiting.

Regardless of the time, there are always people waiting outside.

“It never fails,” Bieberdorf said, noting that recently eight people were waiting outside when he arrived at 6 a.m.

Bieberdorf said those waiting are in need, but they also line up early because they enjoy each other’s company.

To an outsider, the La Grande Food Bank seems to be operating just as it has in years past, providing nutritious food free of charge to the less fortunate. A deeper look shows there is a difference. The food bank, which for decades was overseen by Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries, is now operated by a new community service organization, Neighbors Together.

Neighbors Together is stepping in for Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries, which was dissolved earlier this year after serving the less fortunate in Union County for at least three decades.

Neighbors Together was created to make sure all the programs Neighbor to Neighbor operated continue, according to its board president, Hannah Voetberg.

The La Grande Food Bank is one of those programs. Located in the Valley Fellowship building on Palmer Avenue, the food bank provides free food baskets to individuals once a month. Each Tuesday morning, it has its Fresh Alliance, which includes fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, yogurt and other items, many of which are donated by Safeway and Walmart.

The amount of food distributed by the La Grande Food Bank, along with its schedule and the hours it’s open, have not changed since Neighbors Together took over.

“Everything is the same, except that we have a different board,” Bieberdorf said.

The same applies for all other programs Neighbor to Neighbor operated, including its woodlot and voucher programs.

The woodlot program provides free firewood to those in need in the fall and winter. The voucher program allows those in need to get a motel room, gas and a meal at a restaurant for no cost.

Lyle Nelson, a Neighbors Together volunteer, is impressed with how the transition has gone for the new organization.

“Nothing has changed in terms of services,” he said. “Nothing has gotten lost in the switchover.”

Voetberg said the only real difference at this point is the board and administration.

“The same volunteers are still hard at work,” she said.

Voetberg said Neighbors Together has big shoes to fill following Neighbor to Neighbor in winning the hearts of the people it serves.

“Transitions are always difficult. We have to earn their trust,” she said.

Voetberg said Neighbor to Neighbor dissolved because of the increasing maze of government rules and regulations charitable, nonprofit organizations must navigate. She said due to technicalities, it is harder for established nonprofits to have to completely restructure than it is to establish a new organization.

“It is easier to build from the ground up,” Voetberg said.

The organization Voetberg is helping develop is continuing all Neighbor to Neighbor programs, but also will have its own identity. Voetberg wants Neighbors Together to eventually place a focus on assisting people by developing skills they need to help themselves.

Voetberg said there is a tremendous need for organizations like Neighbors Together because many people in the Grande Ronde Valley are hurting.

“There is a huge need,” she said. “These are people who are trying to make it like the rest of us.”

Voetberg said poverty and the way it is addressed is different in rural areas than it is in urban areas. Voetberg explained that in urban areas there are more organizations helping the less fortunate. Fewer organizations are available in rural areas, making it more critical for people to reach out to one another, which they do.

“It really is neighbors helping each other, that is what matters. There is a lot of power in that,” Voetberg said.

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