CAN pushes on despite cash crunch

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate May 03, 2013 05:15 pm

Organization still working to feed the hungry in Del Norte

Its grant funding expired three weeks ago, but the Community Assistance Network made a recent stop at the Surf Apartments like it does every weekend.

Inside, Heidi Bauman sorted through produce and loaves of bread, stopping to inspect an apple and a bag of greens. Bauman, who has lived at Surf Apartments since 2002, said CAN supplements her income by bringing her and other residents groceries. She has also been in its warehouse as a community service worker. 

“The fact that they do offer community service is a huge help for folks who can’t pay their court fines,” she said. “They are such nice people.”

Since its Community Development Block Grant funding expired March 31, the organization has been staffed solely by volunteers, said Board Chairman Stuart Nichols. CAN had been running a deficit of about $1,500 a month, but Nichols said people have increased their giving, allowing to CAN to shrink its deficit to about $600 a month.

CAN has offered food boxes to 1,680 people since the new year started, Nichols said. The organization has distributed 37 emergency food boxes and collected 64,701 pounds of food from Del Norte County grocery stores. On Saturdays, in addition to visiting Surf Apartments, CAN delivers food to clients at the Harrington House and three other senior citizen apartments.

The boxes can contain anything from loaves of French bread to whole chickens. On Easter, CAN received a whole pallet of fresh eggs from a local supermarket, Nichols said. It also runs a clothing closet at its warehouse on Standard Veneer Road.

Since its Community Development Bock Grant funding expired March 31, the organization has no paid employees, Nichols said. A team of volunteers operates the nonprofit organization. Since its grant funding stopped, CAN had been running a deficit of about $1,500 a month and was looking for ways to downsize, but Nichols said the organization board hopes to continue shrinking its deficit, using community donations. Board members are also looking for ways to downsize, he said.

“The building we’re in is 5,100 square feet and, as many of our grants have come to an end ... a lot of space is not necessary,” Nichols said, adding that there’s a rumor going about in the community that CAN is closing. “One direction we’re looking into is to relocate into a smaller operations and a smaller building.”

Even though CAN’s Board of Directors had known for some time that its grant funding was set to expire at the end of March, it was unable to set aside funds to help with the hard times ahead, Nichols said. 

“We had very little support from the community because we did become too dependent on grants, so we’re running a deficit at this point,” he said. “In the last three months we’ve been trying to generate some support. I will say beyond the grants, there have been things that have helped to sustain us up to this point, but right now it’s pretty much day to day.”

Despite the desire to downsize, CAN continues to collect food from local contributors, Nichols said. He added that he brought in about $2,700 worth of food in one day. Food drives at Safeway and the post office also help. But the organization wants to get back to its roots as a community-supported organization, he said, so CAN has begun reaching out to local churches.

The effort has been somewhat successful, Nichols said. He hesitated to name the churches and pastors who support CAN, but said he hopes CAN will gain enough funding to close its monthly deficit soon.

“There’s a principle in the scriptures that talks about doing your deeds in secret: ‘Your treasure is stored in heaven,’” he said. “CAN (has been) successful in gaining and obtaining grants, they’ve become dependent on it. But our community support is very low.”

When the Community Development Block Grant that CAN used to receive for food bank services went instead to Rural Human Services in 2012, CAN had little money to work with, Nichols said. 

In February 2012 CAN’s deputy director and director resigned. The organization’s board took over administrative duties and the nonprofit narrowed its services to the food and clothing bank.

CAN had been receiving quarterly CDBG installments of $30,000, Nichols said in December. At that time, the organization had just decreased from a payroll of $25,000 a month to about $2,000, he said. 

Starting in December, CAN was operated by volunteers and two part-time warehouse employees, Nichols said. CAN is now completely staffed by volunteers, he said, and there is room for more.

“We still would love to have a number of volunteers,” Nichols said. “We can always use volunteers.”

CAN has also started a two-month advertising campaign with Bicoastal Media, Nichols said. Every other day Bicoastal Media will broadcast four 30-second messages to let folks know that CAN is still open and is looking for volunteers, he said.

For more information about CAN or to find out how to volunteer or donate, visit www.canbless.org.

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