FISH Food Pantry opens in Odell

Photos and story by Drew Myron

Volunteer Gail Lyon stocks the shelves at the new FISH food pantry within Mid Valley School in Odel.

Two words drive a sweeping program with a practical mission: “Alleviate hunger.”

With the opening of the Odell Food Pantry at Mid Valley Elementary School, the effort to end hunger has expanded. In a space not much larger than a closet, the Odell Food Pantry aims to fill a basic and urgent need.

The Odell site is part of FISH, a nonprofit organization with food banks throughout the Hood River area. The main location is in Hood River, with smaller sites in Parkdale, Cascade Locks and Odell. For nearly a decade, FISH—an acronym for friendly, instant, sympathetic, help—served the agricultural community of Odell. That changed in 2018 when the organization was forced to shutter operations.

The food pantry reopened in December 2019 at a new location. Having a food bank within the school is an added bonus, says Kim Yasui, principal of Mid Valley Elementary School.

“FISH does great work all over the county, and it’s great to have them in Odell again,” she says. “The school is a gathering place for our community, and having the food pantry here is good and convenient for our families.”

Formed in 1969 and rooted in practicality, FISH is fueled with a no-fuss, can-do spirit. The organization began with just a few women discreetly sharing food with their hungry neighbors.

“It started out with two little ladies,” explains Becky Bugge, who has been a FISH volunteer for 15 years. “They gave out a hunk of cheese and some bread.”

A sign on the west side of the Mid-Valley School parking lot in Odell directs people to the new FISH Food Pantry inside the building.

That simple effort to feed a few has grown into four food banks, one community garden, 500 volunteers and food provided to more than 1,200 families annually.

All this happens with remarkedly low overhead and next-to-nothing administrative costs. FISH operates with just three paid part-time staff and a pitch-in-and-work-hard board of directors, led by Marianne Durkan for more than 20 years.

“Food insecurity is a problem in rural communities, and transportation is a real problem,” Marianne explains. “Mid Valley School is a community center for many activities, and having a food pantry here is a natural fit.”

FISH receives no state or federal funds and operates solely on private donations. Food comes from a variety of sources, including local farmers, orchardists, grocery stores and food drives.

FISH is also aligned with the Oregon Food Bank, which allows the organization to buy food items at a discount. More than 170,000 pounds of food were donated last year, and volunteers contributed more than 11,000 hours of service.

“Because of our huge volunteer force, we’re able to spend money on food for our clients,” Marianne says.

From retirees to working parents, and folks living in cars to those living in comfort, the Odell Pantry Food feeds all who are in need. There are no income or citizenship requirements. Most importantly, there is no judgement.

With 500 volunteers and three part-time employees, FISH operates four food banks. The efforts are led by Marianne Durkan, who has volunteeed for 20 years.

“We tell all our volunteers, ‘Do not judge,’” Becky says. “‘Someone may drive up in a nice car, but they may be living in it.’ We don’t judge. We err on the side of compassion.”

The Oregon Food Bank says the need for food assistance is as strong as ever. Although a decade has passed since the Great Recession, many struggle to cover their basic needs. Although fewer people are unemployed, the high cost of living and stagnant wages continue to create family food insecurity.

Food pantries no longer serve solely as an emergency food source but as an important source of nutrition, according to Oregon Food Bank reports. Pantries make a significant difference in the lives of food recipients. In fact, more people are visiting a pantry more often.

Tidy and clean, the Odell Pantry is small but full. Visitors choose from a selection of meats, butter, cheese, eggs, milk, bread, rice, beans, a variety of canned foods and seasonal fruits and vegetables. In the summer, produce harvested from the FISH Community Garden is offered to clients. The Odell location, which serves a large Latino population, features local favorites such as hominy, jalapenos, corn husks and cactus.

Because the site opened recently, it’s still unknown how many the pantry will serve. “Even if it’s just five, 10 or 20 families, it’s important,” Kim says.

All are encouraged to use this free resource.

“You don’t need a driver’s license,” Marianne says. “You don’t need to be fearful. We’re not the food police. We don’t want anyone to go hungry.”

To volunteer or make a donation, reach out to FISH Food Bank, 1130 Tucker Road, Hood River, Oregon 97031, visit the FISH Food Bank website call (541) 386-3474.

FISH Locations

Odell
Mid Valley Elementary School, 3686 Davis Dr. West side of the school parking lot.
Open the second and fourth Tuesday of every month from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Parkdale
Parkdale Community Church, 4910 Baseline Dr.
Open Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m.

Cascade Locks
Cascade Locks City Hall, 40 SW Wa-Na-Pa St.
Open the fourth Wednesday of every month from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and the following Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.

Hood River
1130 Tucker Road
Open Mondays from 3:30 to 5 p.m., Wednesdays from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Fridays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.