A Shoulder to Lean On | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A Shoulder to Lean On

NeighborImpact bolsters our community in these uncertain times

When you scratch the surface of NeighborImpact, you'll find the myriad ways in which they help Central Oregonians. From immediate assistance with food procurement and a mobile food bank, to more long-term resources such as financial counseling, NeighborImpact improves the lives of those in need in so many different ways.

A Shoulder to Lean On
NeighborImpact hits the road with their Mobile Pantry.

"We are the largest nonprofit in Central Oregon," says Rachel Haakenson, the Marketing and Communications Director. NeighborImpact serves residents of Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson Counties, as well as residents of the Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs. To put their range in perspective, last year they distributed 3.5 million pounds of food.

Although the food pantry is just one of the many ways in which NeighborImpact supports families in Central Oregon, in the time of COVID-19, food scarcity has become quite a pressing issue. Before the virus, NeighborImpact was primarily a distributor of food donated by local grocery stores. Because many more families now face empty cupboards and kids are no longer able to get breakfast and lunch at school, NeighborImpact updated operations to make food donations more easily accessible, Haakenson said.

NeighborImpact now has several pick-up spots all over Central Oregon where anyone who needs extra food can get what they need. And unlike many food banks, which focus mostly on non-perishable food, NeighborImpact tries to provide a variety of fresh items as well.

"We really focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and high quality, healthy food," Haakenson says. "We want to provide things people will eat and enjoy." To maintain this high level of food offerings during a time when donations from grocery stores were often low, NeighborImpact also buys food.

“People don’t have to wait until they have an eviction notice or until they don’t have money for rent to apply for rent assistance. We have a lot of availability right now.”— Rachel Haakenson

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Another area in which NeighborImpact has seen a high demand is with child care providers. While the nonprofit doesn't provide childcare, they do provide resources, training and information for child care providers. As things started shutting down during the pandemic, childcare became an extremely important asset, especially for essential workers who were unable to work from home. Deciphering the new requirements from the state, as well as trying to find all the necessary supplies to stay open was a challenge for many providers, and that's where NeighborImpact stepped in to help out.

A Shoulder to Lean On
Not only does NeighborImpact distribute non-perishables, they also focus on fresh foods.

"Childcare providers were in a really uncertain state, because they weren't given much direction about how to run their programs," Haakenson explains. "It was really difficult from a business perspective, from a financial perspective, and from an emotional perspective." NeighborImpact helped providers decipher the requirements to remain open, as well as helped with funding through grants. They also helped childcare providers obtain the necessary supplies they needed to stay open, such as sanitation and personal protective equipment.

"The fear is that providers will have a hard time meeting the demand (from the community) while staying financially afloat, and then they won't be able to reopen later," Haakenson says. "We are already in a child care desert, so we worked with the City of Bend and Deschutes County to help bridge the gap that providers were facing."

Other resources provided by NeighborImpact that have been especially helpful during these times include its House Stabilization program, along with a specific COVID-19 rent relief program. The two programs have different requirements, but both are there to assist people who may not be able to pay rent. Normally there is a waitlist for this program, but because of COVID-19, NeighborImpact received additional funding, giving them the opportunity to help many more in need.

A Shoulder to Lean On
Volunteers are an integral part of NeighborImpact.

"People don't have to wait until they have an eviction notice or until they don't have money for rent to apply for rent assistance," Haakenson stresses. "We have a lot of availability right now."

Because NeighborImpact gets its funding from a mix of state and federal sources, as well as from private donations, every program has different qualification requirements. Haakenson recommends that people who need assistance should visit the website to learn more about each individual program and to find out if they would qualify. The NeighborImpact website also has a resource map that people can filter by location, services and hours to find more information about what someone might be looking for.

Despite COVID-19 shutting down many service opportunities, NeighborImpact is always looking for volunteers. Many needs cannot be met virtually, such as getting food ready to deliver. Employees are going above and beyond with safety precautions to make sure that volunteers are safe. Those interested in volunteering or donating can check out the 'give help' tab on the NeighborImpact website: neighborimpact.org

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