Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023 @ 3:54 p.m. / Community, Local Government

Crescent City Council Chooses Food Bank For Possible 2024 Grant Funding

Rose Brown makes pico de gallo during a cooking demonstration at Pacific Pantry in this 2019 photo. | File photo: Jessica C. Andrews

Crescent City councilors applauded Rural Human Services for their work helping adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities live as independently as possible.

But they sided with the program that serves the most people —  the Community Food Council’s Pacific Pantry and Mobile Market — when deciding which to seek Community Development Block Grant dollars for.

“If I have to look at public dollars and the way it’s spent I have to look at black and white numbers,” Councilwoman Kelly Schellong said Monday. “For me, it looks like the food pantry is serving more people per capita and per dollar. If we have to pick one, I tend to support that application because it’s serving more than 1,000 or so people in the city versus 16.”

Schellong and two of her colleagues approved submitting two 2024 CDBG applications to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Mayor Pro Tem Blake Inscore and Councilman Jason Greenough were absent.

The first request is a competitive grant application seeking $250,000 for Pacific Pantry, which the Community Food Council operates out of the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods.

Crescent City will also seek $3 million to complete its Front Street reconstruction project, extending it from Play Street to U.S. 101. According to Lorie Adams, the city’s CDBG consultant, the state will consider over-the-counter applications like the Front Street request on a first-come first-served basis.

For an OTC request to be eligible for CDBG dollar, projects will have had to complete the environmental permitting process and have plans and specifications done, Adams said.

Crescent City Manager Eric Wier noted that reconstructing Front Street began with a CDBG grant for a storm drain replacement project. He said he anticipates the current project to have completed the NEPA and CEQA permitting process when the city makes its request for additional CDBG dollars.

The state is expected to receive about $48 million in CDBG dollars from the federal government and release a notice of funding availability in January 2024. Applicants can request funding for up to two activities, including public facilities and infrastructure projects and public services.

When she reintroduced City Councilors to Pacific Pantry, Meredith Knowles, the Food Council’s strategic initiatives and grant coordinator, said Del Norte County has the third highest food insecurity rate in the state.

Citing U.S. Census data and information from Feeding America, a nonprofit battling hunger nationwide, Knowles said there are 3,990 food insecure households in Del Norte County and 29 percent of them have children. Pacific Pantry has served 4,370 unique households and 10,723 unique individuals since the Food Council opened it in 2018, Knowles told Councilors.

“If somebody is food insecure, sure they may come to the food pantry one time, but more often than not they’re coming on a monthly basis,” she said. “These unique individuals are not counting for repeat visits and I would like to point out that that 10,723 number is almost 40 percent of this county’s population.”

The Food Council established Pacific Pantry with CDBG dollars allocated toward them from the city, Knowles said. It offers a grocery store-style environment where clients can choose “the most culturally appropriate food” for themselves and their families. Knowles said the format also creates a dignified experience for those who rely on them.

The Community Food Council established its mobile market using $185,653 in CDBG dollars distributed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The market visits Gasquet, Smith River, Klamath and Del Norte’s unhoused population on a monthly basis, bringing the same programs and food clients can find at Pacific Pantry.

“We know transportation is a huge issue,” Knowles said. “Having one physical site is not enough for the entire county to travel to.”
Knowles said the Food Council’s request for $250,000 in CDBG dollars was for both Pacific Pantry and its mobile market program.

She noted that in addition to expanding its reach and “meeting priority populations where they’re at,” the mobile market is important from an emergency response standpoint.

“When the Smith River Complex hit, we were able to rely on the relationships we had built through all those community sites,” Knowles said, “and were able to spring into action, driving emergency food boxes, fresh produce, everything we had to those sites at the drop of a hat.”

Barrie Walkley, chairman of the Rural Human Services Board of Directors, presented the nonprofits request of $125,000 for its Helping Hands program. The program currently serves 16 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities using a staff of three, Walkley said.

Staff teach their charges routine household activities they need to maintain a safe place to live, Walkley told Councilors. They take them to appointments and shopping and teach them how to access public transportation. In some cases, Helping Hands staff have helped their clients find jobs, Walkley said.

“We’re preventing those people from going into institutions or living on the street and contributing to our homeless problem,” Walkely told councilors. “We are now investigating ways to assess how many of our homeless may qualify for our programs. There is no requirement in our program that they have to have an apartment it turns out. We’ve managed to find apartments for our 16 clients at the moment. We want to see what we might be able to do with the homeless population. It will be a new dimension to our program.”

Walkley said RHS would use a CDBG grant to purchase vehicles dedicated to the program and could potentially increase Helping Hands to serve more than 40 clients.

“It will be a significant increase for us,” he said.

Schellong mentioned volunteering at a recent Night to Shine event held in February. The Tim Tebow Foundation-sponsored event sought to give teens with special needs a prom night with red carpet treatment. That experience, Schellong said, changed how she viewed those living with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“I said right up front, some of them when I saw them in the community I was a little bit afraid of them. I didn’t know how to react to some of them,” she said. “And when I see them in their suit and dancing and having the night of their life, they were so kind and loving. I was so touched by them and now I see them and I get to walk up and say hi.”

But, Schellong said, she couldn’t ignore the fact that Pacific Pantry serves more than 1,000 Crescent City residents.

Schellong’s colleague Ray Altman said he wished he could fund both programs too, but the food pantry takes precedence.

Mayor Isaiah Wright agreed noting that RHS is seeking CDBG dollars to expand their program, the Food Council wants to continue with the programs they already have.


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