Eight months after it opened its doors, Pacific Pantry is now serving more than 500 families a month.

Victoria Ostenso, the new food program director for the Community Food Council, expects that number to increase. But with its limited space — a small room at the rear of the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods — the pantry can only serve about 60 clients a day, she said.

“The Pacific Pantry has given us that opportunity to serve a more diverse set of people, so we’re serving more low-income people now,” Ostenso said. “As we continue to expand we’ll look at how we can expand our infrastructure to support that.”

A growing operation

Pacific Pantry opened its doors in April 2018 after the Community Food Council and the Family Resource Center entered into a contract with Crescent City in 2017 to receive $239,147 in Community Development Block Grant dollars.

It’s a choice-style pantry, allowing its clients to choose the items they feel would be right for their family. Each client must take one produce item and based on their family’s size, they’re able to receive a certain number of items once a month, Ostenso said.

Currently, under the stipulations of its CDBG contract with the city, about 50 percent of Pacific Pantry’s clients must live within Crescent City limits, Ostenso said. Though the number of Crescent City residents accessing services through Pacific Pantry is always close to that 50 percent mark, Ostenso said their clients come from elsewhere in the county as well.

According to Ostenso, the current CDBG contract expires in October. Ostenso said the food council also looking for other sources of funding. One purchase the pantry is hoping to make is for a truck, she said.

Currently, a staff member is using her personal vehicle to make the food pantry’s biggest purchases, Ostenso said. According to her, much of Pacific Pantry’s food comes from Redwood Empire, which is in Santa Rosa and supports food banks between there and the Oregon border.

“We need to find a truck and we need to find the resources to pick up this food,” she said. “The Redwood Empire supplies at a discount because it’s for a nonprofit and it’s specifically for food banks. We just have to figure out how to connect the dots and get the supplies here.”

A new face

Ostenso, who grew up in rural Wisconsin, came to Crescent City from Vancouver, Canada. She began working at the Community Food Council as the food programs director in October, taking the role over from Brittany Rymer.

Ostenso said she became introduced to the food system and a passion for wanting to be a part of changing it when she was in high school. Wisconsin is a farming state, and while Ostenso said she wasn’t raised on a farm, her community was impacted by the rise of corporate agriculture and the decline of family operations.

Ostenso said she saw the ripple effect that had on the local economy and after taking a class her senior year in high school on sustainability science, she began interviewing local farmers on the products they sell and how they’re doing.

After doing her undergraduate work in Minnesota and working for a nonprofit in Nebraska that focuses on legislative issues revolving around economic justice, Ostenso earned a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of British Columbia.

“I focused on food policy and what local food policy councils are doing in North America to forward a more just food system,” she said. “And then I also studied community garden programs and their impacts on the communities that they’re in.”

Other projects

The Community Food Council also continues its focus on six food forests it helps operate in Del Norte County and on adjacent tribal lands as part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that sunsets in 2020, Ostenso said.

With the help of Erika Partee, food and garden coordinator with the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, who partnered with the food council to obtain the grant, and garden coordinator Ben Zumeta, the food forest project, the Straa~Shvm (Hii) Mvlh Ghee-Saa-git-na, or Good Food Makes US All Healthy project, has become more embedded in the community, Ostenso said.

Pacific Pantry recipients have also begun to reap the benefits of the project. According to pantry manager Gloria Martinez, pantry recipients can even pick up some kale and arugula that came from the site near CR.

Meanwhile, Ostenso said her first few weeks with the Community Food Council have also been spent learning who the key players are. She said she especially wants to get those who are “impacted by food systems in the county” to provide more input and be involved in setting priorities for the food council.

“I’m thinking both system and policy change,” she said. “What are the projects that we can do that will have the greatest impact in the community?”

For more information about the Community Food Council, visit www.dnatlfood.com.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .