By Todd Wels

Triplicate staff writer

On the eve of its fifth anniversary, the Del Norte County Community Assistance Network (CAN) is looking to expand its facilities in the near future.

From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. this Thursday, CAN will hold an open house to commemorate its fifth anniversary.

With its large building on Standard Veneer road, with a new walk-in cooler being built on, it is a far cry from CANs humble beginnings five years ago, according to CAN Executive Director Charlotte Whitehurst.

An egg crate, a telephone and a big empty warehouse was what we had, Whitehurst said Monday.

The impetus for the creation of CAN came from the Del Norte Evangelical Minesterial Association, which determined that the way in which the individual churches making up the association delivered food to the needy in this area was inefficient.

Therefore, the association elected to create one group to handle food distribution for the needy and the Community Assistance Network was formed.

CANs first home was a ramshackle building on Elk Valley Drive, which had a leaky roof and no indoor plumbing.

According to Whitehurst, all of the labor on the project, including her own, was conducted on a volunteer basis.

In the first month, CAN served 160 people. That number continued to rise beyond the organizations ability to distribute the necessary food.

A year-and-a-half into CANs existence, the organization received a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Crescent City for $50,000, which began Program Fund Developer Stephanie McBrayers association with the organization.

Around that time, CAN began receiving food shipments from Operation Blessing, a charitable organization affiliated with evangelist Pat Robertson and the 700 Club.

Whitehurst said Operation Blessing has lived up to its name, in that it has allowed CAN to remain open more than one day a week.

The Operation Blessing semi truck comes to the CAN warehouse once every three months, loaded with up to 50,000 pounds of food, McBrayer said.

Thats in addition to the approximately 5,000 pounds per day that are donated by local grocery stores and individuals.

In 1998, having outgrown its Elk Valley facility, CAN utilized a second Community Development Block Grant to purchase its current facility on Standard Veneer Road, McBrayer said.

With its new facility, CAN serves approximately 1,300 people a month, with approximately 45 percent of those served under the age of 18. They are limited to one food box per month.

McBrayer said most community food banks serve approximately 10 percent of their regions population, and that CAN falls right in line with that though its numbers are rising.

We pretty much have an increase every year, Whitehurst said.

That increase has prompted CAN to increase its services.

It has now expanded its services to include providing clothing and showers free of charge, and is examining the possibility of offering passes for emergency shelter at local hotels.

To increase its revenue, CAN is also examining the possibility of acquiring rental properties within the next five years. Those rental properties would be used to provide low-income housing, McBrayer said.

Whitehurst said she is pleased with the efforts of the community and her staff but also attributes CANs success to a higher power.

CAN is a Christ-based organization, and that is our foundation, she said.