Already diminished, the organization is at crossroads

December is only 11 days old and already the Community Assistance Network has received more requests for food boxes than usual.

The nonprofit's warehouse on Standard Veneer Road crawled with volunteers on Friday sorting through vegetables, loaves of bread and cartons of milk when another box was added to the stack of 40 waiting to be filled. Warehouse Manager Dave Smith predicted that the number of residents seeking food boxes at the end of the month will double.

"We deal with a lot of people," he said, adding that CAN received roughly 15 food box requests during the first week in November. "By the end of this month 80 families will come."

CAN has distributed about 2,700 food boxes to Del Norte County residents since August, said Board Chairman Stuart Nichols. Its clients receive a food box once a month. The organization also delivers food to Harrington House, Surf Apartments and to the three senior citizen apartments in the area.

The boxes contain anything from fresh pineapple to whole chickens and Papa Murphy's pizzas. Every once in a while CAN will give away half a sheet cake, cat food and dog food, Nichols said.

"It's especially a blessing when you're out here serving and you hear a little girl has a birthday and you're able to give them a half sheet cake," he said.

But after offering services ranging from utility and rental assistance to community gardens, CAN's services now consist only of its food bank and clothing closet, Nichols said. The organization's Community Development Block Grant funds end in March. The CAN board was forced to lay off much of its staff in October and is currently seeking a new home for the organization.

"Toward the end of October we had a payroll of $25,000," Nichols said. "Now it's $3,000. Three people are still employed. All the rest are volunteers."

Losing its grants

CAN had been receiving CDBG funds for several years, said Nichols, who has been serving on the board for roughly three years. In March, however, CAN was left out of the CDBG process while Rural Human Services, which also operates a food bank, received funding. Charlaine Mazzei, the city's grant coordinator, told the Crescent City Council in March that the city couldn't hazard including duplicate services.

Nichols said CAN had received quarterly CDBG installments of $30,000. Another installment is expected in January. CAN's operating budget is $6,000 to $7,000 a month.

CAN has been struggling since 2009 when the number of agencies seeking grant funding increased and the grant funding itself decreased, Nichols said. But the organization's real struggle began earlier this year.

"In February 2012 when the deputy director and director resigned (we came to) the realization that the funds weren't there to continue their salary," said Nichols, who has also been interim food bank manager. "That's when the board had to step in. We've narrowed all our services to the food and clothing bank."

Networking with others

CAN has been working with local churches and non-profits, including Rural Human Services and Our Daily Bread Ministries, which offers weekly meals, to remain open, Nichols said.

"We understand they'll receive the effect of CAN closing," Nichols said. "There's been some discussion on how we can consolidate ministries and help each other out."

Rural Human Services' programs are different from CAN's, but the organizations do take steps to support each other, said Ron Phillips, RHS special projects program coordinator. RHS runs an emergency food box program as well as a federally funded monthly food box program and a state-funded food box program for seniors. But because RHS currently lacks refrigeration facilities, any vegetables it receives are typically turned over to CAN, which does have refrigeration at its site, Phillips said.

Phillips added that like CAN, RHS is also trying to find a place with enough refrigeration space to be able to accommodate its food program.

"I talked the other day with Dave Smith who does the distribution over (at CAN) and we talked about churches," Phillips said. "There are not a lot of churches around here that have that kind of room."

Even though RHS operates three food programs, it doesn't have a clothing closet and is typically only able to offer its clients dry and canned goods, Phillips said.

"It would be a shame if CAN does go out," he said. "They can provide that kind of service."

Smith, who has worked for CAN for nearly a decade, said he has seen the number of employees grow from three to more than 20. Now, only four people are on the organization's payroll, he said.

"There will be a lot of hungry people," Smith said, referring to what would happen if CAN were to close. "Or a lot of people will be scraping pennies to make that food (bill)."

For more information on CAN or to find out how to donate, visit