Every year we provide our referred clients with a complete Christmas meal and gifts for the school age children. If you would like to contribute, click here to sign up to be notified of donation dates and times.
We will be open for business at our current location on Friday, August 10th. When we close we will begin our packing of the pantry and move on the 10-12. We will open in our new location at 1220 NE 68th Street on Thursday, August 16th at 4:00.
We will need people to help pack and move everything, and clean the space we are leaving. If you would like to help, let us know here and we will contact you as the details roll out.
We are looking forward to our new location and grateful to Vancouver Heights UMC for being so generous with their space these past two years. Looking forward to seeing you at our new space!
Published: May 27, 2016, 8:28 PM
Vicki Smith doesn’t want to be around when most of the food at Martha’s Pantry gets thrown away. “I’ll cry too hard,” said Smith, the pantry’s executive director.
The shelves had been freshly stocked with nonperishable food on Tuesday, the day before First Congregational Church of Christ in Hazel Dell was damaged by a fire that officials ruled an arson. For three years, Martha’s Pantry has operated out of an 800-square-foot space in the church’s basement. It’s the only pantry in Clark County dedicated to those who have HIV or AIDS.
About 60 percent of the food must be tossed due to smoke damage. The damage is hard to see, but inside the pantry a slight stench of smoke lingers. A glass of water set out in the pantry on Thursday morning had turned the color of honey by Friday morning.
“All this has to be thrown out. Nothing here can be salvaged,” Smith said, gesturing toward shelves of food. Food in permeable packaging, such as cardboard or plastic wrap, has to be discarded, according to Clark County Public Health. “The smoke gets in everything,” and contains carcinogens, Smith said. “With our vulnerable community, we cannot afford to expose anybody to a potential threat.”
Those with HIV or AIDS have compromised immune systems, making cleanliness a top priority. On Friday, volunteers were wiping down canned goods with disinfecting wipes and putting them in bins to stow for distribution at the new location. They planned to throw away all baby food and baby items.
Smith hopes to reopen the pantry at Vancouver Heights United Methodist Church, so long as the church board approves the move Sunday. “Our goal is to be open and operational by next Thursday,” Smith said. “We need to have a place for our people to go.”
Normally, the pantry is open Thursdays and Fridays, and on Tuesdays clients get together for games or outings.
‘I was crying’ When Yvette Mercer heard the church had burned, she said, “I was crying. I was very devastated.” The 48-year-old started coming to Martha’s Pantry in 2005. At events, she shares her story about living with HIV. Her 5-year-old son, Jayden, does not have HIV. “When we first started coming to Martha’s Pantry when they were downtown, it was scary at first but the most lifesaving thing,” Mercer said. “We support each other. We pray for each other.”
Martha’s Pantry serves about 70 families every month and runs solely on volunteers. Its yearly operating budget is about $40,000, Smith said. Because it’s one of the smaller pantries in Clark County and serves a niche community, she said, she knows many clients intimately. “We’ve had people say that we’ve saved their lives, and it wasn’t because we gave them a bag of food. Our mission here is improving the quality of life,”Smith said.
Some clients visit the pantry every week. Martha’s Pantry isn’t the only group that used First Congregational’s space. Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers and a couple of other congregations met at the church.
Investigation continues; Fire investigators have been busy the past few days collecting evidence and following leads on the two church fires that happened this week, Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway said. After First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hazel Dell sustained heavy damage early Wednesday, firefighters were called to another church fire about 24 hours later. That fire, at Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene, was extinguished by sprinklers. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office is assisting in the investigation.
Though no fires were reported at any local churches on Friday morning, Dunaway said that he encouraged church leaders to remain cautious throughout the weekend. “I would certainly keep the alert level high,” Dunaway said. “We put information out to various places of worship to encourage them to stay vigilant to try to prevent this from happening.”
Emily Gillespie of The Columbian contributed to this report.
Those who visit quickly become known as “friends.” This all-volunteer staffed pantry focuses on the needs of those affected by AIDS/HIV, but is open to all who come through the doors. They’ve been serving Clark County since the 80s.
Ken Kerr points out that Martha’s Pantry offers cleaning supplies, something most food programs do not provide.
In the early 1980s, AIDS was devastating the local gay community as well as others with the disease. They not only were fighting for their lives, they were facing financial ruin because they just couldn’t work. A small group of concerned people in Vancouver decided to take on the task of helping these individuals and families in any way they could. It started with buying food, driving to the homes of those in need and distributing it out of the trunks of their cars. As I was guided around the current Martha’s Pantry rooms at a small church on MacArthur Boulevard, Pastor Ken Kerr pointed to an energetic gentleman. “He was one of those who delivered the food in the early days and he still volunteers,” Kerr shares. “He’s in his 80s!”
The effort grew as more compassionate people took up the task of providing food, clothing and cleaning supplies, as well as emotional support and friendship. They grew and occupied a permanent space at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC) in Hazel Dell. Two years ago a three-alarm fire damaged most of the food at Martha’s Pantry and they had to move to their current smaller location in Vancouver Heights.
A Place of Kindness I was greeted with a smile by Baxter Jones, a Martha’s Pantry board member, who was at the front of the room stocking shelves with canned goods and cleaning supplies. In the open room, people sat at round tables chatting and enjoying lunch. A woman, on portable oxygen and using a walker, selected a loaf of bread to take home after checking in with the volunteer.
At the back of the room a man, also with a smile on his face, packed up donated clothing that had been hung up for those who might need some clean clothing.
Being a board member is a hands-on volunteer job for Baxter Jones. In another room used by Martha’s Pantry, I met with Kerr who had pastoral duties at the church and was the President of the Martha’s Pantry board. He explained to me that as Martha’s Pantry grew and served more people, it was only through a network of community agencies, businesses and individual supporters that their work could grow. For many years they were the only non-governmental agency serving those affected by AIDS/HIV. Some of their partners include the Clark County Food Bank, Kaiser Permanente and the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Raintree Empire. Recently, Kaiser Permanente brought 35 people to Martha’s Pantry for a workday to clean and organize. It takes individuals and organizations with large and small contributions to keep the program running. Vancouver churches such as the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Vancouver Heights United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver and others play an important part in seeing that Martha’s Pantry continues their work. As Kerr showed me around, more supporters were pointed out – an organic farmer who sent fresh produce and Safeway who provides baked goods. The list is endless of those who care.
Not Just Food
When a person comes to Martha’s Pantry for food and supplies they are given a list of what is available and within that list, how many items of a certain category they can take that particular month. Kerr shared, “they usually go home with 80 to 90 pounds of food for the month.” If people can’t come in, they can call in their order and a volunteer will deliver it.
This volunteer selects food items for a person who called in their order. The crowded room holds the freezers, shelved food and offices. The upcoming move will provide more space.
The anticipated move should be the first part of April, if construction proceeds as planned.
Once the move is complete they plan to include the youth in the church to enlarge their services in the community. Young people as well as current volunteers will ensure Martha’s Pantry will be here far into the future fulfilling their mission of “Improving the quality of lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in Southwest Washington.”
I have to point out that Smith is also a volunteer. Martha’s pantry is completely volunteer run. And through the efforts of the volunteers and community they will continue to touch the lives of the people they serve as the program grows.
Martha’s Pantry, the community center and food pantry for people with HIV/AIDS, usually suffers three or four deaths per year, according to Executive Director Vicki Smith. But this year, the all-volunteer nonprofit agency, which serves around 60 families each month, has already lost three people within three weeks.
The prognosis for people with HIV/AIDS has improved radically over the decades, generally speaking. “It’s no longer a death sentence. It’s a chronic disease,” Smith said. But, for people living with compromised immune systems, even mundane illnesses can develop deadly complications. Most people who succumb to HIV/AIDS don’t die from that virus, but from “opportunistic” infections that weakened immune systems can’t fight off.
Even though Martha’s Pantry supports people who face that threat every day, Smith said, facing the loss never gets any easier. “We go to too many funerals,” she said.
Despite which, Smith and her wife, Martha’s Pantry manager Jeanie Harman, are getting ready to move the operation back out of the Vancouver Heights United Methodist Church and “go home again,” as Harman put it. Home was and will be the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hazel Dell, which hosted Martha’s Pantry for several years in its basement level — until an arson fire in May 2016 sent the nonprofit looking for another place to operate.
The Heights church has been a fantastic and welcoming temporary home, Harman and Smith both said, but dreams of letting Martha’s Pantry build its own building on the church grounds ran into permitting and financial realities. Martha’s Pantry’s annual budget is around $40,000 a year in donations, they said; permitting and building to code — complete with sidewalks and plumbing infrastructure — would have cost many times that, they were disappointed to discover.
So, the plan is to move back to Hazel Dell, where the First Congregational Church has rebuilt and offered Martha’s Pantry more downstairs space than it used to enjoy. Martha’s Pantry used to pack a couple of small basement rooms tight with food and cleaning supplies; when it moves back in after Easter, Harman said, it will occupy nearly the entire basement. That’ll mean more space for supplies, more space for volunteers to sort and serve, and more space for clients to just hang out. Martha’s Pantry is far more than a clearinghouse for the nutrition and hygiene necessities so crucial to people with HIV/AIDS, Smith emphasized; it’s also a social hub. When The Columbian visited earlier this week, a handful of folks were visiting and playing cards, with more always dropping by.
“Crafts. Puzzles. Cards. Games. We take them on road trips too,” said Harman, who pointed out that many Martha’s Pantry clients can’t afford cars. In recent years, the charity has been getting into the delivery business, too, she said.
She’ll never forget the client who wept with joy during a field trip to Multnomah Falls, she said. “He said he hadn’t been out of his house, hadn’t been out of his yard, in years,” she said.
Douglas Myers-Funk was a Martha’s Pantry friend and fundraiser who died on Jan. 7 at age 53. The Vancouver native had an incredible zest for life, his friends said, and became an important local leader in what’s called the International Imperial Court System. That’s a grass-roots fundraising network that stages parties and balls, with all revenues going to LGBTQ causes — like Martha’s Pantry.
The court’s Southwest Washington chapter is named The Imperial Sovereign Court of The Raintree Empire, a fanciful reference to our wet local climate. That elaborate name suited Myers-Funk, who evolved into a beloved performing drag queen named Shelia DuDu Dupont. He was also a member of the Martha’s Pantry board, for which he raised thousands of dollars. He was married to his partner of 27 years, Wayne Funk.
“Doug was the most vibrant person with such a passion for service,” Smith said. “He was sick for years,” was already in hospice and had actually selected March 3 as his “death-with-dignity day,” she said. But complications from a common cold finished the job before that.