Arturo and Theresa shop for food during an evening distribution at AWARE Food Bank in Woodburn.

After sunset on a late fall evening in Woodburn, AWARE Food Bank is bustling with activity as clients make their way into the pantry to “shop” for food during AWARE’s new bimonthly evening hours.

Among those clients are Arturo and Theresa. The married couple lives in the neighborhood, but this is their first time visiting the food bank. Arturo has a history as a farmworker and is not working right now, and Theresa is set to undergo surgery for breast cancer next week.

Theresa works during the day, which can make accessing food through the pantry a challenge. After seeing that AWARE was open that evening, they decided to stop in. She and Arturo fill a shopping cart with essentials like milk, eggs, bread, and canned vegetables. When they’re done, a volunteer helps the couple outside and loads the bags of food into their car.

The evening hours are an extension of AWARE’s longstanding efforts to serve the farmworker community in northern Marion County. AWARE conducts regular mobile food distributions throughout the growing and harvesting season at local migrant farmworker camps and housing complexes, but those typically conclude around Thanksgiving.

“We wanted to continue serving throughout the winter, but the locations we would go to would often have poor lighting and we and our clients would be outside in the weather,” says Gabriella, AWARE’s Pantry Manager. “We wanted to be able to provide equitable access for our clients so that they don’t have to choose between a paycheck and food.”

In addition to providing a safer, more comfortable shopping experience, serving out of the pantry itself offers clients the dignity of choice and the opportunity to leave with a larger quantity of food. Many farmworkers are hesitant to take what they need at mobile distributions because they want to leave enough for others, Gabriella says.

“When they see a surplus of food, they might feel more apt to take as much as they need,” Gabriella says. “Our clients are always thinking about the next person behind them [in line], but it isn’t such a burden when they see the abundance that we have.”

Another positive about serving from the pantry location is the ability to connect the community to other services. AWARE is partnering with The Northwest Hub and Marion County Health & Human Services to offer their resources during the twice-monthly evening distributions, which will continue through April. The Northwest Hub offers free bicycles for children and adults, as well as repairs and safety equipment, and the county’s Health Department is providing health resources for those without access to healthcare.

The evening hours and partnerships providing transportation and health resources are all part of an ongoing effort by AWARE to be a hub for vulnerable neighbors in the Woodburn area. Gabriella praises the community for making it possible for AWARE to expand its services within a few months of a fire that forced the pantry to evacuate its building and begin operating out of a temporary facility.

The City of Woodburn and Chemeketa Community College have been instrumental in keeping AWARE open in the wake of the fire by providing support and a temporary pantry location, she notes.

“To see the way the community has come together to provide us the opportunity to serve our clients in the capacity that we are is really humbling,” Gabriella says.