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Klamath-Lake Counties Food Bank

By Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, District 28 11/28/12.

The winter season is nearly always a period of both increased unemployment and higher family cost.

This year is shaping up to be even worse than most due to a stagnant economy and inflating consumer prices.

Oregon’s rural economy has continued to falter, per capita household income persists in its downward spiral and unemployment remains in double digits. More than twenty percent of rural Oregonians, who want to work, do not have a job or are working less than full time. Those stark numbers are much worse among eighteen to twenty five year old job seekers.

At the same time, the rapidly inflating costs of food, fuel, home heating, utility services and medical care is eroding away already inadequate household incomes.

This is particularly true for those on fixed incomes. Very low interest rates result in small returns on investments while annual cost of living adjustments are being kept artificially low. The certain result is that many seniors, and others unable to work, must choose between keeping their dwellings warm, staying current on utility bills, paying for medical necessities, and buying food.

The Klamath-Lake County Food Bank is an instrument of hope for many of these struggling households.

The local Food Bank is one of twenty regional affiliates of the Oregon Food Bank. That Portland based operation makes food available to each Oregon region based on population, poverty levels and unemployment rates. Each week, the local operations manager orders available food products paying the Oregon Food Bank a “share fee” to reimburse their costs of acquisition and shipping.

Niki and Dave Sampson, along with their hard working crew, have distributed more than 1,700,000 pounds or 850 tons of food this year. The food is dispensed to seventy other non-profit agencies and programs located throughout the region served.

About 750 volunteers have donated more than 23,000 hours of their time to the local food distribution efforts. That calculates to nearly a quarter of a million dollars in volunteer labor. This spirit of giving is one factor that has allowed the Food Bank to keep their labor costs low.

In fact, local Food Bank labor costs are a little less than sixteen cents for every pound of food distributed!

Allocations by the local Food Bank include providing food for 485,000 meals this year. Food is made available to provide meals for seniors and the disabled, cancer treatment and hospice patients, single parents and those with special needs kids, veterans, the homeless and those who just need a little help once in a while in order to make ends meet.

In fact, the fastest growing segment of those seeking help from the Food Bank are those families who are underemployed and simply run out of cash before the end of the month. Nikki tells us, sadly, that many of these families are the same generous people who have been consistent contributors of food and money to the Food Bank for many years.

The Food Bank distributes food boxes to ten pantry sites within the Klamath Falls area as well as ten more food pantry locations throughout Klamath and Lake Counties. This year, Niki and Dave’s crew have already provided food to one in four Klamath and Lake County households. On average, each of those 6,400 families has received four food boxes.

The Klamath-Lake Counties Food Bank is unique in that it receives as much as two thirds of all its food donations from local people and local businesses. This year, they have collected more than 850 thousand pounds, or 425 tons of food, through local community food drives, individual contributions, the generous gifts of local farmers and ranchers, and from many local food stores such as Safeway, Albertson, Thunderbird Market, Grocery Outlet, Walmart, and the Daily Bagel. This incredible local support is unprecedented in Oregon and serves to make the local Food Bank nearly self-sustaining.

This did not happen by accident.

The Sampsons first began working with the Food Bank when it was located out at Kingsley Field. At that time, as much as ninety five percent of the food came from the Oregon Food Bank in Portland. Niki and Dave have worked for more than fifteen years to successfully develop this ongoing charitable relationship with members of our local communities.

Part of that effort was focused on moving the Food Bank to a more accessible and more functional facility. Niki wrote a number of grant applications and was able to secure $400,000 from private foundations plus another $50,000 in matching funds from the local communities.

They used those funds to develop the location they now occupy at 3231 Maywood Drive. That facility includes a 1,800 square foot administration building, a 12,000 square foot warehouse with extensive walk-in coolers and freezers, a pair of fork lifts and a variety of vehicles used to collect and distribute food products.

This facility and equipment allows the Food Bank to process about seventeen tons of food each week and deliver it to those in need.

All of the buildings and equipment are fully paid for and are now owned by the Klamath Falls community. This debt free operation helps the Food Bank to purchase more and better quality food both locally and from the Oregon Food Bank. In fact, the Sampson managed operation is now able to leverage about twelve pounds of food purchases for every dollar it receives in donations.

The Klamath-Lake Counties Food Bank is a well-managed business operation with friendly efficient staff, impeccably clean facilities and obvious pride of community ownership. It operates with the lowest overhead costs of any charity that I have ever observed.

The low overhead has allowed management to set aside modest reserves to sustain its service through even worse short term economic downturns. Our Sampson managed Food Bank is a shining example of what a local Food Bank should be and how one should be operated. The other affiliated Food Banks would do well to emulate their success.

There is simply no other charity where our cash and food donations will be put to better use to help our neighbors in need.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.

Best Regards,





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